One of the best meals I had on a recent trip to Ireland wasn’t in one of the fancy restaurants that I spent hours researching on the Internet before the trip. No, it was in a local pub where we sat at a communal table with strangers (who soon became friends) and listened to local musicians playing in the corner. Both dishes we ordered shone that night. The first was a Guinness stew and it inspired me to come home with hopes of replicating the meal. (The other – because I know you are wondering – was the traditional Irish Cabbage and Bacon, and yes, I want to replicate that too if I can!)
Aside from the Guinness, the beef is the most significant ingredient in this stew. If you pick up “stewing beef” from the grocery store, you may likely be disappointed. Often with “stewing beef” you don’t know what cut of beef has been used. Sometimes, in fact, it can look like just scraps of beef from many other cuts. Badly cut stew cubes can leave you with a stew that looks odd and the pieces can be tough because you don’t know what cut you’re dealing with. The biggest piece of advice I can give you when making a stew at home is to buy a chuck roast and cut it into cubes yourself. That way, you can trim as much or as little of the fat off as you please, you can make the cubes big enough so that when they shrink during the cooking process they don’t look too small, and you know that you are working with chuck. It’s not hard to cut a big piece of chuck into cubes. Do it.
One of the most important steps in making a beef stew is the first – the browning of the beef. This really does have an affect on the finished dish and you can’t rush it, so plan for this step to take up to 30 minutes. I know you’ll be tempted to over-crowd the pan when you brown the beef so that you can get as much done as quickly as possible, but I promise you this will only slow you down. When you over-crowd a pot, the moisture that comes out of the meat has no hot empty surface area on the bottom of the pan from which to evaporate. As a result, the moisture just accumulates and stops the meat from browning, and browning the meat gives flavor not only to the beef, but to the sauce that you’re going to make as well. So, don’t over-crowd the pan. Start browning the beef, open the Guinness, pour it into a glass and go get another can from the fridge for this recipe.
Once the beef has browned, set it aside and start adding the chopped vegetables and tomato paste. Let that tomato paste toast in the pot to enhance and give some depth to the flavor of the stew. Then, you can pour in that Guinness and scrape up all the delicious brown bits that have formed on the bottom of the pot.