January is an absolutely ridiculous time to introduce dramatic dietary restrictions, no? Your house is still full of leftover Christmas chocolate and cheese, it’s grey and rainy outside, the excitement of the holiday is behind you, and you’ve got going back to work hanging over your head. Why deprive yourself of the pleasures of food and drink? Sure, if you feel a little weak from Christmas indulgence – so overwhelmed by your consumption of cold meat buffets and Prosecco that you are no longer able to physically lift yourself off the sofa, say – then you might want to hesitantly reintroduce green vegetables to your limping system and gently nourish yourself with restorative avocado-based meals. But that’s no reason to eschew all the hearty meat-and-carb based fare and warming puddings that are our birthright in the bleak mid-winter. Have it all, that’s what I say. Then have some more. Then have an apple, for balance.

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In the spirit of this, here is a very hearty beef stew. By all means, serve it with vegetables if you wish. But relish in its warming, protein-laden deliciousness, have it with a glass of wine under a duvet in front of the TV, cuddle up with a loved one or pet, and be kind to yourself.

Source:

This stew takes inspiration from recipes in both Nigella Lawson’s Simply Nigella and Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana, but is very much my own meandering take on things. Both of them use lamb, for a start.

Notes:

Black garlic. It sounds like quite an annoying, esoteric ingredient to include here, doesn’t it? Normally I would not put such a thing in a recipe, because I hate recipes which require you to find odd ingredients (not that I don’t like the odd ingredients, you understand – I just resent having to go out and buy them) but I was given a tub of it for my birthday by my brother-in-law to be and it smelled so delicious that I knew I wanted it to find its way onto the blog. Then I found that you can buy it in my local Sainsburys (in the speciality section, admittedly, BUT STILL), so I feel much more comfortable about it being here now.

This serves about 4-6 people generously, dependent on sides. I tend to make the full amount for the two of us and we’ll have it pretty much all week. Luckily James has a very high tolerance for eating the same thing over and over again.

You can get beef shin from a butcher, but you can also get it from Sainsburys these days, usually from the butcher counter but sometimes just in the beef section of the meat aisle. I would really recommend using it over any other cut of beef for a stew. It’s my favourite by far for texture and flavour. Unless you have a really decent knife, cutting beef shin is a bit of a pain, because it’s tough. I tend to just use scissors, because I am a ridiculous excuse for a cook. Try to cut against the grain, as it makes it more tender to eat.

You will see the technical term ‘ish’ lots in the ingredients. This is the nature of stew. A bit more or a bit less of anything won’t really hurt.

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Ingredients:

glug of olive oil
1 large white onion
2 heads black garlic, peeled and separated into cloves (see note)
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp tumeric
2 tbsp dukkah
750g (ish) beef shin, cut into 4cm (ish) chunks
handful (say about 10) baby onions, peeled and left whole
2 tbsp plain flour
2 bay leaves (fresh if possible)
leaves from 2 thyme sprigs
2 cans chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

  1. Pop a big pan on medium heat and cover the base with the oil. I am sure proper cookery people have cast iron pots that can go in the oven and fancy tagine dishes and stuff, but all I have is a big saucepan with a lid, so I use that. Blitz the large onion and one head’s worth of black garlic cloves in a food processor until roughly chopped, and pop them in the oil. Cook them off for about 3 minutes until they start to soften and release delicious garlicky smells. Pop all of the dry spices into the pan and stir everything up. Cook it all off on a gentle heat for about five minutes. Scrape the mixture out into a bowl and turn the heat up high.
  2. Add a splash more oil to the pan, season the beef with salt, and pop it in to brown. Move it around occasionally. When the beef is well browned and golden on all sides (about 10 minutes, depending on your pan and heat), pop the baby onions in for around 3 minutes to brown. When everything is caramelised and yummy, turn the heat down to medium and add the flour, bay, and thyme. Mix everything around until the flour is absorbed. Add the chopped tomatoes and balsamic vinegar, then fill the chopped tomato cans with water and add to the pan until the contents are well covered with liquid. Bring the stew to a simmer, then turn down the heat as low as you can and leave to cook for 3 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more water if it gets dry.
  3. After three hours, grab a bit of the beef on a fork and have a poke at it. It should be completely falling apart – collapsing into melting flakes with almost no resistance when you press it against the side of the pan. If it’s not, give it half an hour’s more cooking time and check again, and keep going if you need to. It’s very difficult to overcook shin if you’re going on a gentle heat, so don’t worry about it going tough – it will fall apart before that happens. When you’re happy with the meat, make sure you’re happy with the sauce too. If you want it a bit thicker, whack up the heat and bubble it down for ten minutes or so. Take the second half of the black garlic cloves, stir them in, and let them warm through. When that’s done, check and adjust the seasoning of the sauce.
  4. Serve with brown rice, cous cous, or whatever carb you fancy. Probably could add some green in there too but you are not obligated. This keeps very well and will be delicious reheated even after a few days have slipped by.