Beer is the Secret Ingredient in this Stew

It doesn't get better than hearty beef stew cooked with ale and topped with a fluffy buttermilk dumpling.

You know this beef stew has got to be fabulous if I made it and thoroughly enjoyed it during a fluke 90-degree heatwave a few weeks ago.

So just think how satisfying it will be during the bone-chilling fall weather to come.

“Beef-Ale Stew and Green Onion-Buttermilk Dumplings” is from the new “The Sunset Cookbook” (Oxmoor House) by the editors of Menlo Park-based Sunset magazine.

It’s the first new cookbook in 15 years by Sunset.

As a native San Franciscan, I grew up with Sunset magazine as a staple in my family’s house. A stack was always found on our coffee table. Over the years, the look of the magazine may have changed. But one thing that hasn’t is the reliability of the recipes. Meticulously tested, they always work and taste delicious.

The new cookbook, of which I recently received a review copy, follows that tradition. More than 1,000 recipes are packed inside this weighty book, which were selected from the magazine, then retested and updated.

The beauty of this stew is that the thick sauce is really made from nothing more than natural beef juices cooked down for three hours with caramelized onions and two bottles of ale. Yet it tastes far more complex than that. I used the New Belgium Brewing company’s Trippel Ale brewed with coriander, which was smooth, hoppy, robust and had an almost faint caraway note.

Chunks of beef chuck cook up wonderfully tender in the sauce fortified with sweet carrots and earthy mushrooms.

The pièce de résistance is the fluffy, tender dumplings that cook on top of the stew. A simple dough of cold butter, flour, baking soda, buttermilk, egg and copious amounts of sliced green onions gets mixed together. Then, 12 small balls are formed that are gently placed on top of the stew to cook in the steam for half an hour.

Think of it as a riff on chicken and dumplings, only made much heartier with beef and beer.

Perfect for the cool weather ahead.

Beef-Ale Stew and Green Onion-Buttermilk Dumplings

(Serves 6 to 8 )

4 pounds beef chuck, fat trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

6 tablespoons plus 2 cups flour, divided use

3 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided use

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided use

2 bottles (12 ounces each) ale

2 large onions, thinly sliced

1/2 pound mushrooms, quartered

3 large carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch lengths

1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions (green part only)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

4 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

3/4 cup buttermilk, or more as needed

1 egg

In a large bowl, toss beef with 3 tablespoons flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and the pepper. In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add enough beef to pot to form a single layer (about a third of beef), being careful not to overcrowd pot. Brown meat on all sides, about 7 minutes total, then transfer meat to a large bowl. Brown remaining beef in two batches and transfer to bowl. If meat or pan juices start to scorch, reduce heat.

Add 1 bottle of ale to pot. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, scrape up any browned bits on bottom. Pour ale from pot over reserved beef and return empty pot to medium-high heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pot. Add onions and 2 teaspoons salt. cook, stirring often, 2 minutes. Cover pot and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions have a hint of gold color, about 20 minutes.

Remove lid, raise heat to medium-high, stir in 3 tablespoons flour, and cook, stirring often, 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, reserved beef and ale, remaining bottle of ale, and the carrots. Bring to a boil. Cover and lower heat to a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beef is tender, about 3 hours.

About 40 minutes before serving, make dumplings: In a medium bowl, stir together remaining 2 cups flour and 3/4 teaspoon salt, green onions, and baking soda. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, work cold butter into flour mixture until it resembles cornmeal with some pea-size pieces. In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk and egg. Gently fold wet ingredients into dry, mixing until a very shaggy dough forms. If more liquid is needed, add additional buttermilk 1 tablespoon at a time. Gently form dough into 12 equal balls and drop into stew. Cover pot and cook until dumplings are fluffy and cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes. Let sit 15 minutes before serving; stew will thicken as it cools.

Per serving: 732 cal., 39 percent (288 cal.) from fat; 58 g protein; 32 g fat (13 g sat.); 50 g carbo (4.2 g fiber); 1,675 mg sodium; 220 mg chol.

From “The Sunset Cookbook”

More: John Besh’s “Chanterelles, Chicken and Dumplings”

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