Guinness Irish Beef Stew

>> Friday, March 8, 2013

Guinness Irish Beef Stew


A few years ago I took an Humanities tour of Ireland and Scotland during winter break at my college, studying art, literature, and Celtic culture. We left Chicago on Boxing Day (December 26 to us Yankees) and spent two weeks falling in love with the countryside, the very friendly people, and the rich tradition of art and literature around us.

Irish town
The exuberant colors of Irish buildings. 

I know I fall in love easily when I'm traveling, but there are just so many things to love.

Glendalough Monastery
Glendalough Monastery, founded around 600  A.D.
Dublin Museum of Natural History
Dublin Museum of Natural History

During my trip, I tried authentic Irish stew a couple of times. On a chilly day, is there anything better than beef and vegetables slowly simmered in a dark savory gravy? Yes there is! The Irish say, why not add a couple cups of stout beer to the broth?

Angela at Guinness Brewery in Dublin
Guinness DOES taste better at the source: the Dublin brewery's tasting room.
This beef stew is best if it cooks low and slow for a long time, so you can put it in a Dutch oven or a slow cooker and let it melt into delicious stew all day. That's perfect if you want to go to an Irish celebration like the Chicago parades or a local party. By the time you come home, chilled and ravenous, it will be ready for you to devour.

If you visit Ireland, there are at least two things you should know. Between Christmas and New Year's Day, nearly everything shuts down - the entire country is closed. I wanted a friendly Irish family to adopt me for the holiday week as their aunt from America. I would have loved to snuggle into one of those old farm cottages with the peat fires burning on each end of the house, and get in touch with my Irish pride.


The other thing that you should know is that, if you should buy a package of Guinness to sip while you're dressing to go out to the pub with your friends, there is not a single item in the Republic of Ireland that will open the bottles except for a bottle opener. Not a doorjamb, a faucet, your teeth, the sharp corner of a table, a ring, or certainly not your poor tender palms.

Kara opening Guinness bottle
Kara is battling a Guinness bottle with the faucet. The bottle won. You can feel her desperation, can't you?

Instead, just go to the local pub, which is a sort of extension of the Irish living room. You'll get to sing along with the band and maybe even play, if you brought your pipes, bodhrán, or fiddle. You'll definitely enjoy plenty of craic ("crack"), which means good times with good friends, music, and gossip.

Kilkenny pub
Pub in Kilkenny; I'm pretty sure it was called Tynan's Bridge House.

Ingredients

Note: use any combination of veggies you like; this stew is adaptable!
2 pounds beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup flour
2 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups onions, sliced
1 cup parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/4" coins (about 2 medium-sized parsnips)
1 cup carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4" coins (about 2 medium-sized carrots)
1 cup celery, sliced (about 2 celery ribs)
1 cup green peas, fresh or frozen
2 pounds red potatoes, quartered
1 1/2 bottles Guinness or other stout-style beer
4 cups beef broth
1 cup water
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves

Guinness Irish Beef Stew

Instructions

Toss the beef with the flour until the pieces are well coated on all sides. Heat the oil in a frying pan and brown the meat on all sides.

Stir together the broth, beer, water, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, and bay leaves.

If using a crock pot, place half the beef in the pot then half the vegetables, then layer the other half of meat and vegetables on top. Pour the broth mixture over the top and cook, covered, for 8-10 hours on low heat or 4-6 hours on high heat (depending on your crock pot's temperature). When finished, the meat and vegetables should be falling-apart tender.

If using a pot on the stove, place the beef, onions, garlic, and other vegetables in the pot. Pour the broth mixture over the top and stir it together. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 60-90 minutes, stirring occasionally. Again, you know the stew is ready when the meat and vegetables are falling-apart tender.

Before serving, remove the bay leaves. Blend together the cornstarch and water and stir it into the sauce. Let it thicken the sauce for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Serves 6-8.

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