Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beef Stew with Pumpkin Ale

I love pumpkin.  Anything pumpkin.  I have never tasted a dish with pumpkin  that I did not like.  I also happen to love a good pot of beef stew on a cold fall or winter evening.  I had never really thought to combine the two in any way, but several years ago I was browsing in one of my favorite stores and saw a bottle of pumpkin ale.  I am not a beer drinker but the thought of a pumpkin beer was something I could not resist.  I had to buy a bottle.  The store I was in at the time (World Market) sells it by the bottle.  Not sure what to do with the beer, it sat in the refrigerator for quite a while.  When I opened the fridge, I would see it and be reminded of the fact that I needed to do something with it.  Finally, one evening, I was planning to make beef stew and decided that rather than make it with just beef stock or red wine, I would use the pumpkin ale.  I pried the cap off the bottle and tasted it.  It tasted like pumpkin with a little hint of spice.  I had nothing to lose.

Turns out that pumpkin ale adds a lot to beef stew.  It adds a sweetness and depth that cannot be pin-pointed.  It is also a unique flavor combination with fall vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and butternut squash. 

Over the course of several years I have played with this recipe making it in various ways and with various vegetables.  Almost anything works as long as you keep the liquid portion of the stew the same.  I almost always use locally grown carrots and potatoes, and then I add in other vegetables like turnips, butternut squash, or sweet potatoes depending on what I have on hand.  It is nice to add one of those three for the subtle sweetness that they provide to the stew.  If the potatoes are newly dug, I leave the peel on after scrubbing them thoroughly.  I should also say that I generally use dried thyme which I get at my local farmers' market.  If you can't get your hands on a good dried herb like that, you can definitely use fresh.  Just double the amount from the recipe.  It is also important to skim any fat off the surface of the stew.  I usually make this the night before we want to eat it and chill it in the refrigerator.  The next day, I remove it, skim any solidified fat from the surface and reheat it.  It is actually even better the next day after the flavors have mixed and mingled (that sounds like a Christmas song, doesn't it?).

Leftovers of this stew are great.  I have added barley to the broth left behind, and I have thickened the liquid of the stew up and baked it with biscuits on top for a quick pot pie.  Both are easy and delicious reinventions of the stew (especially if you are like me and are not a huge leftovers fan). 

Here is the basic recipe.  Play around with it as I do.  Really, I never make it exactly the same.  Use whatever root vegetables you have on hand and in the quantities you desire, but please don't forget the pumpkin ale (and if you happen to be a beer drinker, have a bottle alongside as well).

Beef Stew with Pumpkin Ale- 
serves 6

1-2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 pound beef chuck steak, cubed (or beef stew meat)
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 medium onion, finely diced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp dried thyme (or 1 tbsp fresh)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp butter
3 cups cubed potatoes (1/2 inch cubes)
2 cups sliced carrots (1/4 inch slices)
2 cups peeled, cubed butternut squash (1/2 inch cubes)
6 cups homemade beef stock (or good quality canned broth)
1 bottle pumpkin ale

Place flour in a zip bag.  Season meat with salt and pepper.  Place the meat in the bag with the flour and shake it around.  Heat oil in a large pot on medium high.  Remove meat from flour, shaking off excess, and place the meat in the hot oil.  Brown the cubes of meat evenly on all sides.  Remove the meat from the pot and place on a plate to rest.  Add the onion and cook 5 minutes until transluscent.  Add the garlic and cook 30 more seconds.  Add the tomato paste, sugar, thyme, worcestershire sauce, bay leaf, beef stock and beer and whisk to combine.  Add the meat and any juices from the plate back to the pot.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat until it is simmering.  Cover tightly and cook 1 hour. 

In the meantime, melt the butter in a skillet on medium heat.  Add the potatoes, carrots, and butternut (or other vegetables) and saute 10 minutes until they are beginning to brown.  Set aside until ready to add to the stew.  After the stew has cooked 1 hour, add the vegetables and continue to simmer 30 minutes more (sometimes longer) until the vegetables are tender but not falling apart.  Use a spoon to skim any fat off of the surface of the stew or refrigerate the stew overnight and skim any fat the next day before reheating. 

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