My boyfriend’s daughters are coming for supper on Friday. They are bringing their babies with them, aged nearly two and nearly one. I get on well with them, which is good, and they like my home cooking which is also good.
I usually get back here from work at about 7.30pm, which to me is too late to start cooking anything elaborate, or some evenings anything at all. G is good at judging this moment, and last Friday suggested we went down to our local hotel/bistro for a bite to eat. We both had fish and chips (reliably tasty) followed by a platter of cheese and biscuits (not worth it) and washed down with a perfectly acceptable sauvignon blanc. A taxi took us home and we walked down through the woods, and along by the river to pick up the car the next morning – a lovely way to start the day (followed by a trip to the farmers market, the royal mail depot and the post office).
But back to next Friday. The daughters. I decided it would be easiest to make a big stew and put it in the freezer – G can take it out on Thursday night and leave it in the fridge, and then re-heat it on Friday before picking me up from the station.
Except that really there wasn’t room for even a scoop of ice cream in the freezer. So, out came the bags of frozen damsons picked from the tree last autumn. And they are now bubbling away on the stove, filling the house with that deliciously autumnal plummy aroma. I made plumbrillo for the first time in the autumn, and loved it. In fact I loved it so much I gave it all away. So now I’m making some to keep – some will stay in the valley, the rest will go back to the city, and will jazz up my lunches, no doubt accompanied by cheese from Mellis the Cheesemonger. Yum.
So, the brown stew. The name isn’t particularly appetising is it? But it’s what G calls it, rolling the R in brrrrrown to render the word almost unrecognisable.
I started off at our local butchers and bought 1.5kg of shoulder steak.
Put about a cupful of plain flour into a large bowl, and season with lots of pepper and some salt. And any herbs you might like.
Cut any excess fat or gristly bits off the steak and cut into bitesize pieces. Bitesize can really be whatever you like, but I like them big enough to bite, but small enough that a piece can go in your mouth whole. Remember though that they will shrink a bit on cooking.
Throw the pieces of meat into the bowl of flour, and mix around every so often to make sure all the pieces are individually coated.
Fry the meat, a little at a time, in a butter/oil mix in a large pan. Each batch should only just cover the base of the pan, anymore and it won’t fry properly. Fry until brown on one side and then flip them all over individually. Yes, this is time-consuming, but worth it. When each batch is cooked (it doesn’t need to be cooked through, just nicely brown on each side) put them in a bowl while you get on with the next lot.
The pan you use should be a big casserole that can hold the whole stew and go in the oven quite happily.
When you’ve done all the meat add a couple of chopped onions to the pan, a wee bit more butter/oil if you need it and a teaspoonful or so of sugar. Gently fry the onions over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, till they’re nicely caramelised. While they are frying prepare some other things to put in the stew: chop up some carrot and turnip; finely chop a clove or two of garlic; cut up some mushrooms or peppers if you want, but keep them in nice big chunks or they will disappear in the stew. If you like it spicy, feel free to chop a chilli or two.
Once the onions are caramelised add the garlic, followed quickly by the other veg. Saute for a wee minute or two. Or five.
Add a couple of tablespoons of worcestershire sauce and the same of tomato puree. Throw in any herbs or spices you want – I like to throw in a bit of spicy dry harissa I have in a jar and always a bay leaf or two. I think I bought the harissa online a year or so ago, and it packs a great punch, and a wonderful heat at the end of each mouthful of stew.
But I digress.
You now need to chuck the meat back in, and add enough beef stock to just cover the whole stew and give the whole thing a good stir. Bring back to a slow simmer, and put in the oven for at least a couple of hours simmering away.
And that’s it.
If possible, make it the day before so the flavours can meld and develop. Give it a taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
Eat with mashed potatoes, and savoy cabbage.