I have a couple of other things that I could be blogging about right now, but tonight’s dinner has to take precedence, if only so that I can write down how I made it before I lose the bit of paper that I scrawled the recipe on just after finishing. With the weather being so cold lately, I bought ingredients for a lovely beef stew. I’ve just realised that one of those ingredients was brussels sprouts to serve with it, which I completely forgot about until this very moment, long after dinner has been finished. I guess I’ll have to eat them tomorrow, and maybe over the weekend too. It’s a big bag. Sprout soup may be in order.
I’ve made beef stew loads of times, and I’ve never really done much by way of variation. I like it with carrot, onion and gravy, possibly made with a stock cube or other gravy agent. A bit of red wine is pushing the boat out for me, where stew is concerned. A couple of bay leaves constitutes a stew rave. My mum makes stew with carrot, onion and stock, and it’s really comforting, and a perfectly acceptable way to eat diced beef. There is a phrase you won’t hear on Masterchef. I did fancy something a bit different today, though, but at first I couldn’t come up with much. I swung by the supermarket to see if they had any ox kidney on the go, and was thinking of doing a steak and kidney pie, which I haven’t tried before. There was nothing doing on that front, though – there was lamb kidney and pig kidney. It’s funny how pig kidney sounds so much worse than lamb kidney, because the word ‘lamb’ signifies meat as well as a little smiling, cartoon, cloud on legs, but pig just means pig. If we’re going to eat it, we call it pork, or ham, or bacon, or gammon, or a lot of other words. Odd. Not off-putting to me, but there’s definitely something a bit less appetising about the phrase ‘pig kidney’. Semantics aside, I didn’t want to mix my animals, though I’m not sure if there’s much difference between them in terms of flavour – something to investigate.
The lack of cow organs troubled me less than it might have, because on my way to the supermarket, I’d had a bit of a dinner brainwave. I had been thinking about making the pastry for a steak and kidney pie, and that in turn had reminded me of the one time I made dumplings. They were to go with a goulash, and had dried mixed herbs through them. I remembered them being really good, though the memory was from about eight years ago, when I was a student and eating pretty questionable foods on a regular basis, most notably fried goods from one of those vans – I would have something from there weekly, on a Tuesday night after the rock night in the student union. Those were the days, eh? Alright, I wouldn’t mind reliving the social life, but I’m glad I never have to sit another exam, I can tell you that for nothing. What I’m trying to say is that my palate has changed in the last eight years, as have my skills in the kitchen, so I wasn’t sure if the dumplings I’d made before would work out for me again, but I thought I’d like to try. On further internal discussion with myself (internal discussion with someone else would be unsettling, to say the least), I decided that thyme and pepper would be good flavours to go with a beef stew, and I was more or less set on trying dumplings instead of pie, even before the lack of offal became apparent.
Without any further waffle, because all the kitchen-based excitement has left me quite ready for bed, here is the recipe for beef stew with thyme and pepper dumplings. I thank you.
- 2 tsp porcini oil
- 1 tsp groundnut or other light oil
- 1/2 red onion
- 1 medium carrot
- 250g lean stewing steak
- 3 tomatoes
- 1 cup water
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 5 stems of thyme
- 2 pinches of sugar
- 1 tsp vincotto
- salt and pepper
- more water as required during simmering
- 3 tbsp margarine
- 10-12 tbsp plain flour
- 3 turns of a sea salt mill
- 6 turns of a pepper mill
- 1/2 – 1 tsp Szechuan pepper, finely ground
- 2 – 3 tbsp cold water
Method for stew:
- Peel carrot and cut in half lengthways, then slice into half-coins across the way.
- Finely chop onion
- Put 1 tsp of the porcini oil and the groundnut oil into a pot with the onion and carrot, over a medium heat. Cook until the onion is transparant.
- Add the meat to the pot to brown.
- Put the tomatoes into a blender and puree. Season the puree with salt and pepper.
- Once meat is browned, turn the heat down to low. Add half a cup of pureed tomatoes and a cup of water to the pot, and stir well. Add the balsamic vinegar, thyme, sugar and vincotto, and stir through again.
- Simmer, covered, for one hour, then taste and season.
- Remove the cover on the pot to allow the gravy to start to thicken. In the meantime, make the dumplings.
Method for dumplings:
- Put the margarine and flour in a bowl, and rub in with your fingertips until the mix is like coarse sand. Start with 10 tbsp flour and work up, if necessary.
- Add the salt and peppers, and mix.
- Add 2 tbsp of water – it should be really cold – and stir in with a knife. If the dough doesn’t come together, add another 1/2 tbsp, then another half again if needed.
- Shape this dough into balls, and they’re ready for the pot.
- Place the dumplings on top of the stew in the pot, and return the lid. Cook for ten to fifteen minutes on each side, until they have risen a little and taken on some colour from the stew – compare the picture above and the one on the left. Be careful to check the amount of liquid in the pot, and add water if needed.
- Stir the dumplings through the stew and simmer for five to ten minutes more.
- Plate up, chow down.
I’m not really sure how dumplings are supposed to be, if I’m honest, having never had them made for me by someone else. The ones I made tonight are chewy and doughy, and a nice amount of heavy. Gramatically, that makes little to no sense, but gastronomically it’s a perfectly acceptable way to express texture, to me at least. They’re also really filling, though I did have some bread with dinner, too – a lovely poppy seed loaf caught my eye while I was in the shops, so I brought it home. It’ll serve me well with the scotch broth I made the other night, too. I took a photo of the inside of one of the dumplings to try to get across the texture; you can see it below. They are undeniably on the stodgy side, and not fine dining, but as far as flavour goes they were pretty spot on. Next time I’d use a bit more pepper to really give them a kick, but I’m more than happy with them as they are. In fact, this was definitely the best beef stew I’ve ever made, without a doubt.
Maybe next time I’ll look up a recipe for the dumplings.
Maybe next time I’ll write a post that doesn’t use the word ‘dumplings’ eighty thousand times.