Perfect for chilly winter nights, this easy peasy Beef and Ale Stew with Dumplings is a total comfort food classic – the edible equivalent of a great big hug!
What is your number one comfort food? For me there are few dishes that are as comforting and warming as a Beef and Ale Stew with Dumplings.
The weather outside might be frightful, you might have had just the worst day, but get a bowlful of this inside you and the world suddenly feels alright!
This is a meal I have been having, off and on and in various forms since I was a child, and it is one I always come back to every winter for its sheer comfort value.
Despite beef and ale stew being a total British classic, there are quite a few times when I have had a bad beef stew. It makes me so sad, as it is such a simple thing to make good and so worth it when you get it right. So here are a few simple tips to make sure yours is the best it can be…
Top Tips for Beef Stew
- First the beef – make sure you choose something in the shops that is described as stewing steak or stewing beef, or ask the butcher what he recommends. Stewing beef is generally much cheaper than regular steak cuts such as rump, fillet or sirloin, and will give you a much better melt in the mouth texture. As a bonus, you can often find it pre-chopped into bite-sized pieces, so one less job to do!
- Second, ensure you give the beef a good long cook – I find a good beef stew takes about 3 hours in the oven at about 160C. This way you will get the most amazing, melt in the mouth texture. If you cook the beef for anything less than 3 hours you are likely to get tough and chewy beef.
- Third, Don’t add the veggies at the start. Whilst beef likes a long slow cook, most veggies do not – veggies like carrots, swede, or turnips will be like mush if you cook them for anything more than an hour, so throw them in a little later. I like to add mine in about 40 minutes before the end of cooking to ensure they are the right texture.
- Fourth, if you are going to add mushrooms to the stew, make sure you fry them first. In my opinion sloppy, slimy boiled mushrooms are just bleaurch! A quick fry up in a hot pan and a little olive oil before popping them in the stew will ensure they have a much better flavour and texture. In fact almost all veggies will benefit from a quick fry before popping them in – veggies like parsnips, swede and carrot especially as it gives them an extra caramelised dimension to their flavour – well worth doing.
I realise I might sound like a right fusspot, but the difference between a stew of chewy beef, slimy mushrooms and mushy carrots and one where the beef is meltingly tender and the veggies perfectly cooked is like night and day and the extra effort is minimal!
If you are veggie, I have made this stew on numerous occasions without meat – simply add in a few extra veggies (e.g. leeks, parsnips, turnips), use vegetable stock rather than beef and make sure you use veggie suet in your dumplings.
If you don’t want to use alcohol, then simply use extra beef stock instead of ale and if you don’t fancy dumplings, then serve this stew with mashed or baked potato or brown rice. Alternatively, if you are looking to reduce your carbs, just serve this stew with a big portion of green veg instead.
The most obvious match for this stew is a good British ale – preferably the same one as you put in the stew (I went for Arundel Sussex Gold, which is local to me and just lovely – both in and with this stew), but if you don’t like drinking ale, a hearty red wine such as Cotes du Rhone, Rioja or Argentinian Malbec would be just perfect.
- 2 medium onions, sliced
- 600g stewing beef, cubed
- 250ml ale (I used Sussex Gold)
- 250ml beef stock (I used a Kallo Organic cube and boiling water)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 100g mushrooms, chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
- ½ a small swede, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 150g Self-raising Flour
- 75g Suet (I use Atora)
- Small pinch of salt
- Cold water
- Preheat your oven to 160C.
- Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a large ovenproof saucepan or cast iron casserole dish. Add the onion and cook on a gentle heat, with the lid on, for about 3 minutes, until the onions are softened but not brown.
- Turn up the heat, add the beef and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the beef is lightly browned.
- Next add the ale and beef stock, thyme and bay leaves, plus salt and pepper to taste. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid, then put the stew into your preheated oven for 2 hours 20 minutes.
- After the stew has been in the oven for just over 2 hours heat a drizzle of olive oil in a frying pan and add the mushrooms, swede and carrots. Fry on a medium-high heat until lightly browned then add to the stew. Put the stew back in the oven for a further 20 minutes.
- Next make the dumplings: place the flour, suet and salt in a bowl and mix together. Add cold water a drop at a time until the mixture comes together into a dough. Divide the dough into 12 and roll each piece into a ball.
- After the stew has been in the oven for a total of 2 hours 40 minutes, remove the stew from the oven and place the dumplings on top of the stew – try to spread them out evenly. Replace the lid and then cook the stew for a final 20 minutes (3 hours in total).
- Serve just as it is or with green veg and either ale or red wine. Enjoy!
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