There are times when you want to wallow in the kitchen. Those indolent, meandering Saturday afternoons where you have nothing to do but put some music on, crack into a bottle of cider and lovingly coddle and cosset whatever it might be that you are creating. Or the mornings when Radio 4, a pot of coffee and a meticulously created soup or loaf are all that you need for comfort.
There are, however, also times when necessity outweighs nurture, and the notion of spending a couple of hours in the kitchen is just not practical. These aren’t necessarily moments to revert to the takeaway drawer or the tin of soup in the cupboard (though these undoubtedly have their place). Instead, it’s possible to be much more economical with your time in the kitchen when the need arises. There is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of meat-based dishes benefit from having the meat browned first. There is also no doubt that this can be a time-consuming and smelly process when done for large numbers. Last week I was doing stew for 14 whilst trying to do a three course dinner the same afternoon, and quite frankly could not be arsed to fart around browning 2kg of beef shin. So I whacked the oven to full blast and browned the meat in there. In the time it took to do this (about 15 minutes) I had done all the rest of the mise, with no smoke to boot. It wasn’t perfect, but it was close enough.
WARNING: This recipe is bad for the environment – it uses beef (naughty, flatulent, delicious animals) and is stewed for 6 hours (boo). You could cook it for less time at, say, 170C instead, or, alternatively, turn off all other appliances whilst cooking* and walk to the shops next time.
Serves 12-14 (it’s worth making extras if you have room in the freezer)
2 kg beef shin
150g unsmoked streaky bacon, roughly chopped
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
4 sticks celery, chopped
4 large carrots, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled and crushed
1 bottle of red wine (I used a Nero d’Avola, but let’s face it, you’re going to use what’s lying about)
1 litre beef stock
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper
For the dumplings
250g self-raising flour
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
– Turn the oven on full blast.
– In a large roasting pan, season the beef with salt and pepper and toss in oil. Put in the top of the oven for 10-15 minutes until brown. Meanwhile fry the bacon over a medium heat until crispy and add the vegetables. Stir occasionally until lightly coloured and softened.
– Add the beef, red wine, stock, flour, tomato puree and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Cover and bung in the oven. Turn the oven down to 120C and cook for 6 hours. Alternatively cook for 2-3 hours at 170C. You can do this part a day or two ahead.
– For the dumplings, whizz the flour, butter and thyme together with a pinch of salt until they resemble green-specked bread crumbs. Add a little cold water and blend until the mixture comes together. Form into balls.
– Turn the oven back up to 180C (I know, I know, the poor polar bears) and pop the dumplings into the stew so that they are half submerged. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and cook for a further 10 minutes, until light brown on top.
– Serve with lashings of English mustard.
* I have no idea whatsoever if this method has any scientific clout.