When it comes to travel styles, you couldn’t get two more different people than me and my husband. I’ll spend weeks and sometimes months researching and planning ahead, writing out packing lists with outfits day-by-day, making dinner reservations at hidden-gem local restaurants, booking tickets to must-see attractions. Paul
has me pack throws a few golf shirts into a suitcase, grabs his passport and asks the concierge for directions to the nearest Irish bar. Wherever we are in the world. He then settles in for the night with a pint of Guinness and a bowl of Irish stew.
At least the Irish bars will be authentic when we’re in Belfast next month. A traditional Irish stew is made with lamb but Whole Foods had a good deal on local Maine short ribs so I decided on a braised short rib in ale this chilly weekend. I’ve previously made this braise with Guinness Irish stout and found it a little too intense and bitter so I plumped for two bottles of local Maine beer. The first is a rich Irish-style black stout and then to counter the richness, a lighter Belgian-style saison ale both from Allagash Brewery. Murphy’s or Boddington beers work well too. Worcestershire sauce and tomato paste boost the umami flavors. The word braise is French in origin and usually involves searing food at a high-temperatur and then finishing in a covered pot at a lowered temperature submerged in a liquid (which may also add flavor).
A braise is best done low and slow with a well-marbled cut of beef – chuck, short ribs, round roast – which will stay moist, become spoon-tender and start to fall apart after an afternoon in the oven. Well-marbled cuts of meat are also more fatty so I like to make this stew the day before to allow time to chill and defat it before serving. Here’s a 15-second video of what happened in the pot:
I love the sweetness that carrots add to the braise but after 4+ hours of cooking they can get a little mushy. If you like a mushy carrot then it’s all good! If you’re fussy about your carrots like me, you can strain the braising liquid, remove the sacrificial carrots, onion and celery and then cook up a new batch of carrots to add back to the defatted sauce with the beef.
You’ll spend a little time up-front quickly chopping the vegetables into hearty chunks (no fiddly dice here!) and browning the meat but then you throw it all into the oven and let the beef gently braise in the beer while your house fills with mouth-watering smells. Short ribs can shrink quite alarmingly during the cooking process so I bank on 2 short ribs per person, this is somewhat excessive but makes for delicious leftovers. How long you need to cook your stew for will depend on the exact cut of meat. My end-point is when I lift a piece of meat from the braise and it starts to fall apart like this:
Braised Short Ribs in Irish-style Stout
24 fl oz of beer. I used an Irish-style stout and a Belgian-style Saison
4lb boneless short ribs (~8 short ribs)
4 oz diced pancetta (or bacon)
5 carrots – peeled and chopped into thick slices (plus more for serving if you like)
3 sticks of celery – chopped into thick slices
2 onions – chopped into thick slices
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 oz (half a small can) of tomato paste (I like Muir Glen)
32 fl oz (1 carton) unsalted beef broth
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
Optional: a few sprigs of fresh thyme
- Pour flour onto large plate or into baggie. Add 1tsp salt, 1tsp pepper and 1 tsp dry mustard powder (optional). Dredge short ribs in seasoned flour (don’t throw away the leftover flour remaining on the plate)
- In a Dutch oven over a medium heat, dry-fry the pancetta until the fat renders out and it starts to turn golden brown
- Lower heat, add onions and cook for 10 minutes
- Add celery and carrots and cook for 5 minutes
- Remove vegetables and pancetta from pot (set aside in bowl), add butter and olive oil to pot.
- Increase heat to high and quickly sear the pieces of floured meat. Don’t crowd the pan or the meat will just steam. You’re aiming for a nice brown crust. As each piece of meat is browned, remove to a plate.
- With heat still on high, pour in the beer and with a wooden spoon, really put some elbow grease in to loosen all of the brown fond (sticky brown cooked-in goodness) on the bottom of the pan. When the bottom of the pan feels smooth (like you’ve incorporated all of the toasty bits into the liquid), add the tomato paste.
- Add a tablespoon of the leftover seasoned flour and whisk until the tomato paste and flour are incorporated into the beer. The sauce should start to thicken up alarmingly at this point.
- Add the beef broth, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and pop the short ribs, vegetables and thyme back into the pot. You want the meat to be completely submerged so add a little more broth or water if you need to.
- Pop the lid on and cook in a 315 degree F oven for ~4 hours (stir at the halfway point). The exact cooking time will depend on your cut of meat. If you want to speed up the cooking time you could cube the beef at the beginning. I’ll just give the beef a little stir and poke every now and again until it’s literally spoon-tender
- Remove from oven, cool and refrigerate overnight.
Easy option: Refrigerate the whole pot overnight. To serve, scrape off the yellow fat on the top and then cook at 350 degrees until piping hot.
More fiddly option (my preference): Put the shorts ribs in a baggie with a spoon or two of the cooking liquid and refrigerate. Strain the braising liquid into a jar or container and refrigerate. Throw away the mushy vegetable. When you’re ready to serve, cook the shorts ribs in the strained, defatted braising liquid and add some freshly sauteed, roasted or boiled (non-mushy) carrots. Taste the liquid and adjust seasoning (salt and black pepper). A little dash of balsamic vinegar or squeeze of lemon juice will brighten the flavors.Serve piping hot over creamy mashed potatoes
Variations: For a more “elegant” dish you can swap the beer for a hearty red wine and serve with buttered noodles and a crisp green salad. If you prefer to cook without alcohol, use unsalted beef stock.