Beef Shin and Black Garlic Stew

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.


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.


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.


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.



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.

Leiths: Foundation Term, Week 5

In one of our many introductory talks, I distinctly remember someone saying that by the end of Week 5, everything would have started to fall into place. We’d be used to the routine of Leiths, we’d have built up some stamina, we’d have the basic skills to be able to navigate most of the recipes… we’d be amazing, basically. That last bit’s not what they said, but you know.

I don’t feel amazing, exactly, but I’ve settled into the routine. It now seems like a completely normal thing for me to get up at ridiculous o’clock and trek to London to cook daily. So much so that the clocks going back has thrown me off a bit. I’m used to leaving the flat in the dark: the new cold light of morning is not kind to my 6.30am face. Nevertheless, I now know exactly where to stand on the train platform so that the door of my favourite carriage judders to a halt directly in front of me: it’s the small satisfactions that get me through the commute.

Looking at our timetable this week, it initially seemed like Leiths was going easy on us Monday-Wednesday in order to make up for the fact that Thursday was our first all-day cooking marathon. More on that in a moment. Monday was fairly lovely as cooking sessions go – brownies, scones, tartare sauce, and feeding our Christmas cakes. We were delighted to find that we had been provided with a substantial vat of clotted cream and gigantic jars of jam for scone-garnishing purposes (cream then jam, obviously, you heathens) and spent a happy afternoon melting chocolate, shaping scone dough, and sampling the booze we’d brought to feed our Christmas cakes, in the name of science.


Things were slightly less relaxing on Tuesday, when we made pastry and chilli. Because we’ve made pastry four times now, we were expected to know what we were doing… and it turns out that I don’t. I messed up the shaping of my pastry in the flan ring, and even after I’d spent a good fifteen minutes perfecting the edges, it still ultimately came out of the oven ugly and misshapen. The chilli, while a relatively simple recipe, did involve sixteen people browning mince over high heat at the same time. Such was the heat of the oil that things occasionally went up in flames, and not on purpose. We later finished our chilli – mine came out incredibly spicy – and developed our little pastry cases into lemon meringue pies. My meringue was a bit of a mess, but my lemon filling was tasty and held well, so I’m calling that a draw.

My slightly dodgy pie, on the left, and my partner’s much neater meringue, on the right.

Thursday, our first all-day cooking extravaganza, saw us making slow-cooked beef stew with caramelised baby onions and a potato and celeriac mash, individual loaves of white bread, goujons of plaice with tartare sauce, and fish stock. When I list it like that, it doesn’t actually sound like much. The thing is that at Leiths you can’t cut corners. If I was at home, for example, I’d whack my meat for browning in the pan all at once, and sort of vaguely get some colour on it whilst half watching 90s music videos on YouTube in the background and call it a day. At Leiths, we season and brown the meat in batches – being sure not to crowd the pan – lovingly turn each perfectly-sized piece in rotation to ensure all the meat is coloured evenly on all sides, and deglaze the pan after each batch and taste the juices. Obviously, doing everything properly takes much longer. Who knew? You can’t even have Mint Royale on in the background, and if you absent-mindedly start singing or whistling to yourself you get reprimanded, so you know they mean business.


Anyway, everything all went swimmingly. No, really. The day was absolutely fine, stress levels were pretty low, and the only real problem I had was that at the end of it I was so tired from being on my feet for eight hours that I had to sit on the floor while I waited for my bread to be marked because they could no longer carry me. And then I cycled 4.5 miles back to the station in the dark. And in the evening I went to bed at 9pm because I couldn’t keep my eyes open. But other than that.


Our Tuesday morning dem was with Belinda, who is a lovely, calming presence. She demonstrated many wonderful things that can be done with choux pastry (we demonstrated the eating of choux pastry – I always like to do my bit to be helpful), and we saw profiteroles, three types of éclairs, canapés, and savoury choux gougère. Wednesday was just as great, because it was steak day. Need I say more? Probably yes. Phil was technically demonstrating ‘tender cuts of meat and pan sauces’, but we all knew what that really meant: steak day. We got to sample bites of fillet, sirloin, rump, ribeye, and onglet, with various accompanying sauces and butters, and I felt quite spoiled. I don’t usually buy or order fillet steak because the price sort of scares me, so I’ve barely ever eaten it before, and it was gorgeous.

I know this is a rubbish picture, but I couldn’t get a proper view from where I was sitting and I wanted to demonstrate the abundance of steak.

The dem of the week, though, against very strong competition, was Friday’s buffet session with Hannah and Hélène. They prepared us a gorgeous array of delicious buffet food, and stood back to let us feast. I don’t know what would happen to me if I had to prepare eight or ten dishes to feed fifty people in a morning, but I imagine it would probably end with me crying in a corner and begging for mercy. We all had second helpings of everything, and then dessert, and then I don’t really know what happened for the next hour or so because I was in a happy food daze.


Also, chocolate roulade? Surprisingly amazing. I have had very dry and crumbly roulades in the past, but this was moist and chocolatey and completely lovely, and I will definitely be making it at some point.

The trouble is that now we have to work in groups to produce buffets for 32 people, and making a buffet doesn’t sound quite as relaxing as eating one was. In our teams, we have to come up with a theme, design a menu, work out costings to a strict budget, source all the ingredients, and, er, cook the whole thing in three hours and serve it beautifully to a jury of our peers and teachers before receiving feedback and being marked. I am sure I will panic more about this in a future blog.


So Week 5 is over, and we are officially halfway through Foundation. Everyone keeps telling me I look tired and pale, last night I was so exhausted that I got confused and walked into a wall, and next week I will continue to work with lots of knives and fire while practically sleepwalking. Still, on Monday we get to make chocolate mousse, blackberry pavlova, and steak, so that will definitely ease the pain a little if I end up losing a finger.