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of British foodways.

NO.53
SUMMER2017

An adaptation of Charles Francatelli’s austere & alluring beef stew for the working classes for service with suet dumplings

This quite obviously is a simple stew. That, in this case, is good; the small range of ingredients allows their sum to get greater than their whole by concentrating the flavor with long cooking. The keys to the dish are dripping, to concentrate the flavor of the beef, and the cut, shin: It has the kind of collagen that will dissolve into silk provided that you get the temperature right and take your time. Six servings.


For the stew:

beef_cuts007.jpg-beef dripping (the fat from a roast; see the Notes)
-about 2 lb beef shin cut into 2-2 ½ inch square chunks
-2 big sweet onions cut into thin crescents
-generous 2 Tablespoons flour
-about 3 cups warm beef stock
-3 bay leaves
-2 teaspoons dried thyme (see the Notes)
-about 2 cups peeled carrots cut into 1 inch chunks (split the big upper half of each root)


  1. Wipe the the meat dry as its missing bone and season it with a generous dose of salt add pepper. 
  2. Melt enough dripping over high heat to coat a heavy skillet (see the Notes) and flash the beef until it acquires deep brown stripes. Do not reduce the heat or crowd the beef; if you do, it will boil and toughen in its own juices. Fry it in batches if, as is likely, necessary. You may need to ad more dripping from time to time. Remove each batch of browned beef to a deep pot.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium, scrape up the debris in the bottom of the skillet as best you can, and dump in the onion; you may need to supplement your dripping here too. Cook the onion until it turns pale gold.
  4. Add the flour, bay and half the thyme: Stir them into the onion just until it loses its raw color.
  5. Stir about a cup of warm stock into the skillet, scraping its bottom, and transfer it to the stewpot with containing the beef. Then add enough more stock to the skillet to pull up any remaining debris from the skillet and add this stock to the stewpot too.
  6. Pour the remaining stock into the stewpot and bring its contents to a boil.
  7. Partially cover the pot and reduce the heat so the stew cooks slightly harder than a simmer; you want occasional burps of bubble.
  8. Cook the stew for an hour, then toss the carrots into the pot with the rest of the thyme.
  9. Cook the stew until it is easy to break the beef with a spoon, usually in about another hour.
  10. Let the stew cool so you can skim away the fat that will rise to the surface.
  11. Reheat the stew to serve with suet dumplings.

For its dumplings:

Praise-the-Lard.jpg-4 oz sifted self-rising flour (see the Notes)
-scant ½ teaspoon baking powder
-2 oz shredded suet (see the Notes)
-¼ teaspoon salt
-generous ½ teaspoon fresh thyme (optional)
-generous teaspoon minced chives or green scallion tops
-generous teaspoon minced parsley


  1. Make the dumplings at least an hour before you want to serve the stew by    combining all of the ingredients with just enough icewater to bind them into dough.
  2. Roll the dough into 12 balls and refrigerate them on a plate under plastic wrap for about an hour.
  3. Bring the skimmed stew back to a boil, reduce it to a simmer and gently spoon the dumplings into the pot. Simmer them until they expand and fluff until cooked through, usually in about 15 minutes.

 

Notes:

-Additional options include chunks of parsnip or turnip (yellow or white). If you decide to include one or both, use enough so that its or their combination with the carrots amounts to about 3 cups. Add all the vegetables as before at Step 8.

-Avoid any temptation to add any of the Editor’s usual favorite like hot sauce, mushroom ketchup or Worcestershire. A dollop of Kitchen Bouquet at Step 6, however, would do no harm. It is but a reduction of root vegetables and will boost the flavor of the beef.

-Rich homemade stock of course is always best but a can of concentrated consommé filled out with stock to meet the required volume is pretty good and adds to the viscosity of the liquid.

-The original recipe, for “Stewed Leg of Beef,” Appears in Francatelli’s Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes (London 1852) Plain indeed; the original uses water instead of stock and omits both bay and thyme. No optional parsnip or turnip either, although an actual member of the Victorian working class would not have hesitated to toss them into the stewpot too.

-If you cannot or will not get beef dripping, substitute equal amounts of neutral oil and butter. The beef is the thing in this stew so avoid flavorful things like bacon fat, lard or olive oil.

-Save the fat that you skim from the stew as an alternative to the dripping from a roast. It will not be quite as flavorful but it will do.

-Fresher is not always better: The flavor of fresh thyme will erode with the long cooking time. Anyway thyme is an herb that dries with aplomb and the preserved version tastes better than fresh in most stews and soups. Fresh thyme is specified as an option for the dumplings because their shorter cooking time may not be sufficient to turn dried thyme from prickly needles to tasty tones.

-If you have no self-rising flour, no problem; use plain flour and boost the amount of baking powder to a rounded teaspoon.

-Any butcher or supermarket will have suet to hand. If you do not see any, ask for it. Suet is the essential shortening for boiled dumplings because it produces a lighter, fluffier texture than any other fat. Atora makes good prepared suet that represents real convenience. It is widespread in Europe but unfortunately hard to find in the United States, and when you do find it in specialty shops stocking British foodstuff all you find is the company’s ‘light’ vegetarian variant, which is adequate. Unfounded FDA fear of BSE?

-You will want something green with your stew. It is winter, it is cold, so cook something, spinach or lettuce or chard, instead of serving a salad, unless you choose the bfia celery salad from this Number of the practical.