This is our best stew recipe and is one in which the meat is literally ‘stewed in its own juices’. A lavish stock that you prepare beforehand, in which the meat simmers long and slowly.
Remember though, that cooking is subjective and about you and your loved ones, so make this recipe your own by increasing or reducing any of the quantities of the ingredients. Just don’t speed up the cooking time. You’d be speeding up life.
Take your time with the meat. It is worth it. First slice the meat off the bones. Reserve the bones and trim the meat of only the hard bits of sinew and the large bits of fat, but leave some fat as it offers the most flavour. Now cut the meat into rustic chunks of about 4 cm. Place the meat in a bowl, cover and place in the fridge until required.
Cover the bottom of a large heavy-bottomed saucepan with oil and heat until smoking hot. Quickly brown the bones of the meat and remove from pan. Add the onions and the bacon. Stir quickly to prevent catching. Add the carrots and celery and sauté until everything is nicely browned and has loads of flavour. Add the brown mushrooms and stir fry until they have released their juices. Return the bones to the pan and pour in sufficient boiling water to more-than-cover the food in the saucepan. Add the sachet of concentrated stock, the tomato paste, red wine, bay leaves, garlic, stock cubes and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for an hour. Strain the stock into a clean bowl. Push the vegetable mixture against the strainer to extract as much of the stock as possible. You do not need the vegetables and bones any longer so do with them what you deem fit. Set aside the stock and when cool, remove almost all of the fat that has risen to the top.
In another saucepan, add some olive oil. Brown the meat in batches. Return all the meat to the pan and add the stock. Make sure that the meat is covered with liquid at all times. You really want a saucy stew so if you have too little stock to cover the meat, add more red wine. Bring to a boil and remove any solids or scum that rise to the top. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for an hour and a half (or more) until the meat is tender enough for your liking. Check the liquids from time to time and if necessary, add a little water.
Meanwhile heat some olive oil and brown the baby onions. Add the mushrooms and brown as well. Once the meat is tender, add the onions and mushrooms and continue to cook for another ten minutes or so or until the onions are tender.
Finally, mix together the melted butter and flour and add spoonfulls of this paste to the simmering stew, stirring until the sauce is thickened to your liking. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, freshly-milled black pepper and even chopped thyme and minced garlic. Stir in the parsley or basil and scatter with the whole herb leaves. Serve with creamy horseradish mashed potato and steamed broccoli.
You can use beef shin meat as a superb alternative. It has loads of connective tissue and just enough marbled fat to ensure moisture, flavour and taste. Since this recipe is somewhat of a ritual, make double the quantities. It will not be wasted over those long, cold, winter weekend days - promise! For a change, crown the stew with delicious dumplings towards the end of the cooking time.