As I write this I stare out of my window into a gunmetal-grey sky. It is cold, windy, dark and, well, quite depressing. But there’s a silver lining in this rain-heavy cloud. It is lovely and toasty indoors and the house smells incredible thanks to warming stew that is slowly cooking on the stove.
I don’t think I am the only one to seek comfort in food when the weather outside is frightful. Stews are by far my favourite winter warmers – easy to prepare, filling and crowd pleasing. The only thing better than a stew is, arguably, a pie and luckily the two are easily combined so I have provided both options here.
I have used ox cheek in this recipe – a cheap and undeservedly unpopular cut which, when slow cooked, melts into the most deliciously tender stew ever. You can use braising steak or any stewing cut if you prefer.
You can also make this a vegetarian stew by replacing the meat with equal weight chopped butternut squash, potatoes and parsnips and using vegetable stock. If you are making a veggie stew you will need to shorten the cooking time to just under an hour until vegetables are tender and liquid is reduced.
800g | 1lb 12oz ox cheek or stewing beef, cut into small cubes
2 tbsp plain flour
8 small shallots, quartered
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp caster sugar
400g | 14oz small button mushrooms, halved
2 large carrots, peeled and cubed
1 firm pear, peeled and cubed
500ml | 2 cups hot beef stock
250ml | 1 cup Guinness or other stout
2 tbsp tomato purée
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp English mustard
1/2 tsp anchovy paste (optional)
3 springs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch) diluted in 2 tbsp cold water
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Chopped flat leaf parsley (optional)
Olive oil as needed to fry
- Put the flour into a large plate. Season the beef liberally with with salt and pepper then toss it in the flour to coat.
- Heat a splash oil in a large pot. Fry the meat, in batches, for a couple of minutes until browned. Set aside.
- Add the mushrooms to the pot and dry fry for a few minutes until slightly coloured. Set aside.
- Add the shallots, carrots, garlic and caster sugar to the pan with a little olive oil. Turn the heat down and fry for five minutes until softened.
- Return the mushrooms and beef to the pot and add the chopped pear, tomato paste, thyme, bay leaf and all the seasonings. Stir and then add the stock, stout and diluted cornflour.
- Bring to the boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until some of the liquid has cooked off and meat is tender.
- Remove the bay leaf and thyme stalks. Check the seasoning add the chopped parsley. Serve with a buttery mash and boiled cabbage.
- Preheat the oven to 200C | 400F.
- Spoon the cooled stew in a large, deep ovenproof dish or pie dish. Do not fill right to the very top or the pastry may get soggy. If you have a pie raiser you may want to use it (could not find mine anywhere).
- Dust your worktop with a little flour and roll out the pastry until it’s about 5mm (about 1/8 inch) thick. Cut a circle that’s a bit wider than the rim of your pie dish. Cut a hole in the centre.
- Brush the rim of the pie dish with egg wash. Cut a thin strip of pastry to line the rim of the pie dish and press it down (see pic above). Brush it with the egg wash.
- Place the circle of pastry over the pie dish. Trim any excess pastry if needed and use your finger and knuckles to crimp the edges. Brush with the egg wash then bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden and puffed.