We are in that in between time weatherwise right now. We’ve just had historic snow here in Memphis, but the first signs of spring are popping up. All the sweaters and coats I wore just a week ago are ready to go back in the closet. I have been socially distancing on my patio all winter, but now it’s time for a spring clean and I am looking forward to lazy cocktails and light meals. But before we are there, I want to present this hearty stew which is perfect for when the days are bright and breezy, but the nights still carry a chill. And with its dose of Irish stout, it’s perfect for a St. Patrick’s Day feast. The traditional beef and dumplings dish is amped up with stout, herbs and tangy blue cheese for a hearty all-in-one meal that’s full of bold flavor.
I am tempted to call this stew a labor of love, only it’s not really a labor, it just takes some time in a few stages.The key to making a dish like this more than the sum of its parts is layering the flavors. I prefer to buy chuck roast and cut it into appropriately sized pieces. I find pre-cut stew meat to be inconsistent, with some too large pieces that get tough and too small bits that sort of disappear, but everything is just right when you do it yourself. Browning the beef and softening the vegetable sin the rendered bacon fat adds extra flavor, but if your bacon doesn’t produce enough fat to keep thinks lubricated, add a but of oil, or some bacon grease if you keep it around. I use Guinness beer from a large can, but any stout or dark beer will do. Adding the larger chunks of carrot and parsnip at the end of cooking keep them intact with a little bite, which I prefer to mushy vegetables. If you are not a fan of parsnip, just use more carrots, but the lovely, bracing note of parsnip adds great dimension here. I love the glossy little pearl onions dancing in the stew and particularly when I find little red ones. You can use frozen, thawed pearl onions or omit them if you aren’t in the mood to peel. I sometimes find, particularly in the lead up to St. Patrick’s Day, Irish Cashel blue cheese, so use that to keep it all thematic, but any tangy blue will do. Making the dumplings is much like making biscuits, but if you don’t mind some extra clean up, you can do it in the food processor.
Beef and Stout Stew with Blue Cheese Dumplings
- For the Stew
2 ½ pounds of beef chuck
1 cup of all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoons pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 strips of bacon
1 white onion, finely diced
4 carrots, peeled – 2 finely diced, 2 cut into bite sized chunks
3 stalks of celery, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 ¾ cups stout beer, such as Guinness (14.9 ounce can)
4 cups beef broth
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaf
3- 4 stems of thyme
10 sage leaves, finely chopped, divided
10 ounces pearl onions
2 parsnips, peeled, cut into bite size chunks
8 – 10 ounces pearl onions
1 Tablespoon corn starch
A handful of Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
- For the Dumplings
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
Several grinds of black pepper
½ cup (1 stick) cold butter
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese
- For the Stew
- Cut the chuck roast into bite-size cubes, about 2 inches square. The cubes will shrink a bit and you want them sized to easily spear with a fork or scoop with a spoon. Put the flour, black pepper and salt into a large ziptop bag and shake it around to combine. Put the pieces of beef stew meat in the bag, seal it, and shake it all around to coat the beef with the flour. Really knead and shake the bag to make sure as much of the surface of the beef is covered with flour as possible. Cut the bacon into small pieces and place in a large Dutch oven. Cook over medium heat until the bacon is crispy, then remove it to a paper towel lined plate, leaving the fat in the pot. Transfer the beef in batches to the bacon fat in the pot with tongs, and cook, turning occasionally, until browned all over. Do not overcrowd the pot, and as each batch is browned, transfer it to a plate. If needed, add some olive oil to the pot (or extra bacon fat if you keep it in the fridge). When all the beef is browned and on its plate, add the onion, diced carrots and diced celery to the pot (adding more oil if needed) and stir well. Pour in ¼ cup of water and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook until the onions are glassy and the celery and carrots are softening. Add the minced garlic and cook for a further minute until fragrant, then stir in the tomato paste and cook one more minute. Pour in the stout and stir well, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the beef broth and Worcestershire sauce and stir well. Add half the chopped sage leaves with the bay leaves and thyme stems (make a note of how many so you can fish them out later). Return the beef and bacon to the pot. Stir well and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 ½ hours. Fish out the bay leaf anf the thyme stems and discard.
- While the stew is simmering, peel the pearl onions. Bring a pot of water to the boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Trim off the stem end of the onions, and when the water is boiling, drip them in and boil for 2 minutes. Remove the onions to the ice water using a slotted spoon. When the onions are cool enough to handle, pinch the opposite end of the onion and they will pop right out of the peel. Cut the remaining two carrots and the parsnips into bite size chunks and add to the pot with the pearl onions and cooked bacon. Cover and cook another 30 minutes until the carrot and parsnip are soft. Put the cornstarch in a small bowl and spoon in 3 -4 tablespoons of the hot liquid and stir with a fork until smooth and lump free. Stir this slurry into the stew and let it bubble for a few minutes until it starts to thicken. The liquid should be a lovely gravy. Stir in the remaining sage and the chopped parsley.
- For the Dumplings
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. About 10 minutes before the stew is done on the stove, make the dumplings.
- Put the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix with a fork to combined. Grate the butter over the flour and add the blue cheese, then use the fork to toss the pieces in the flour. Use the fork and your fingers to rub the butter and the cheese together until crumbly and combined, then stir in up to ½ cup of water until you have a rough dough that clings together, much like biscuits. (You can also do this in the food processor if you don’t mind the clean up). Shape the dough into balls about the size of a ping pong ball. Drop the dough balls over the simmering, not boiling, stew, spaced apart. Transfer the pot to the oven and cook uncovered for 30 minutes, until the dumplings are cooked through and beginning to brown. Serve immediately, sprinkled with some extra crumbled blue cheese and chopped parsley.
- You can make the stew several hours ahead and heat to a simmer on the stove the proceed with the dumplings.