Some of my favourite dishes are autumnal, with hints of warming spices in comfort food, eaten by a glowing turf fire. This peasant dish contains barley which was a staple in traditional Irish stews and broths for hundreds of years and was especially prominant in famine times, when barley had to be substituted instead of potatoes for carbohydrate content. The use of this grain isn’t used as frequently in Irish cooking anymore, which is a pity, as it adds a different dimension to a stew in terms of flavour and texture. Although I have varied it slightly by adding ginger and garlic, this dish was a regular in my Grandmothers Ulster farmhouse kitchen, and along with her parsley dumplings would warm the heart and belly of any soul. Shin of beef is by far the best cut to use and try to buy it on the bone as this imparts a fantastic flavour throughout the long slow cooking. I have diced the beef and vegetables finely, but they can be left in chunks, roughly chopped either. The older generation might have drunk a glass of buttermilk with this hearty stew, but you might find a glass of creamy milk much more agreeable or a good wine. Feel free to substitute lamb instead of beef and add a sprig of rosemary to the pot or chopped finely and added to the dumpling mix. I totally adore dumplings and the trick is not to over or under cook them and they have to be eaten immediately, which is never a problem in this kitchen! Thyme, parsley, sage, chives and rosemary are the traditional herbs usually for dumplings, as these are hardy perennials and can be found in the garden even on a frosty day for cooking.. Use whatever you have, dried or otherwise and like most one pot dishes, this stew tastes better on the second or third day, so make a large pot, as this celtic winter warmer is, in my humble opinion, central heating for the soul.
For the Stew (serves 4)
- 500g free-range/organic shin beef (on the bone)
- 1 large carrot
- 1 medium leek
- 1 medium onion
- 2 tablespoons barley/soup mix
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 celery stick
- 1/2 litre of good beef stock
- 1/2 litre water
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 sprigs of thyme/2 tsp dried
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- sea salt
- white pepper
- 1-2 splashes Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp butter & 1 tbsp vegetable oil
For the Dumplings
- 100g self-raising flour
- 50g vegetable suet
- 5 -6 tablespoons milk
- 1/2 tsp sea-salt
- pinch white pepper
- 1 tbsp of chopped parsley or dried herb of choice
- 1tbsp cut chives
Finely chop all the vegetables and onion, or whizz in a food processor. Remove the beef from the bone and finely chop.
Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan and add all the vegetables and cook gently for five minutes. Add the beef, bone and the rest of the ingredients and bring to the boil.
Reduce the heat and simmer slowly for 2 1/2 – 3 hours. Remove the bone before serving and check for seasoning, adding freshly chopped parsley if you like.
For the dumplings; mix all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add the milk and shape into a large ball. Then shape into 8 balls and drop onto the top of the simmering stew for the last 20 minutes of cooking, covering with a lid. They will double in size and need to be eaten immediately with the stew or they really become tough and chewy.
If you are re-heating any left-over stew on the following day, bring to the boil, reduce the heat to simmering and make the dumplings fresh.
‘cócaire le grá agus le grá do cócaireacht’
(cook with love and love to cook)