Monday, March 15, 2010

Kiss Me I'm (Really Not Very) Irish

Chances are that if you’re not Irish, you pretend to be for St. Patrick’s Day. You’ll wear a little green, stick some shamrock and leprechaun decorations in your window and maybe knock back a few Guinness Extra Stouts or green-dyed lagers. And you’ll even think about what to have for dinner. Corned beef and cabbage get the promotional spaces at the supermarket, but you might (especially if you really are Irish) have a colcannon, soda bread, or Irish stew recipe that has been passed down to you through the generations.

My few drops of Irish blood didn’t come with a recipe box, and I can’t remember if I’ve ever even eaten corned beef that wasn’t in deli-sliced form. (I do have vague memories of searching for corned beef in South Texas supermarkets, so maybe I did cook it one year.) Luckily, I also don’t have any ethnic food police after me (that I know of) so I can take a bit of a side-step and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a Beef and Guinness Pot Pie. This is one of Harry’s absolute favorite dishes, and I’ve been trying to follow Aunt Helen’s advice and make it more often, but he always gets it at least once a year.

This is a rich and delicious beef stew with a fluffy and crispy puff pastry cover. It’s loaded with slowly cooked beef enhanced with dark, rich, slightly bitter (but not unpleasantly so) character from a bottle of Guinness. It also gets a peppery kick from brined green peppercorns. These are simply younger peppercorns that still have some of their fruit qualities, which have been bottled in brine rather than dried. They are milder in spice than the more familiar black peppercorns. They also contribute a touch of briny flavor and a little something vegetal that dried peppercorns don’t bring along. They sort of dissolve into the stew and take on the persona of a secret ingredient (I won’t tell if you don’t.) I love them, plain and simple.

You can find brined green peppercorns in larger supermarkets, usually shelved with things like pickles, olives and capers. In fact, they kind of look like capers and are packed in little jars of similar style, so they’re a bit difficult to spot on the shelf. I think it’s worth making the effort, however, since they give this dish a unique quality that isn’t too weird or palate-shocking.

I usually place the fully-cooked beef stew (which you could make ahead of time) in single-serving crocks, cover them with thawed store-bought puff pastry, and bake them until the pastry is puffed and browned. You could also bake the squares of puff pastry separately and float them onto bowls of the stew. (This is what I usually do with leftovers.) Or, you could forgo the puff pastry altogether and use a different pastry crust, or simply serve this as a stew with biscuits or bread.

Whether it’s with corned beef and cabbage, Beef and Guinness Pot Pie, or your usual Wednesday night fare with a dash of green food coloring I hope you celebrate St. Paddy well (and responsibly) even if your Irish roots are a little weak. I would suggest, however, that you’re careful who you kiss, Irish or not, especially after a few of those green beers.

Beef and Guinness Potpie
Modified from Gourmet magazine

This recipe can take 3 hours or more to prepare, so make sure to allow yourself enough time.

2 lb boneless beef chuck
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
2 Tbs canola or vegetable oil, divided
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ½ Tbs tomato paste
1 ½ cups beef broth
1 (11.2 ounce) bottle Guinness or other Irish stout
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp drained brined green peppercorns, coarsely chopped
2 fresh thyme sprigs or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound peeled potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
½ (17.3 ounce) package puff pastry (1 sheet) (or more if needed), thawed

1. Pat the beef dry with paper towels if it is damp on the surface. Cut the beef into 1-2 inch cubes. Combine the flour, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the cubed beef and toss to coat with the flour mixture.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven, over medium heat. Add the beef in one layer and cook, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the browned beef from the pot and place in a clean bowl or on a clean plate. Repeat with the remaining beef, adding more of the oil as needed.

3. When all the beef has been browned, add the onion to the pan. Cook over medium heat 3 minutes. Add garlic and ½ cup beef broth. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.

4. Stir in the tomato paste and cook 1 minute. Add the beef and any juices that may have accumulated in the bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup broth, Guinness, Worcestershire sauce, brined green peppercorns and thyme.

5. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer 1 hour. Add the potatoes. Simmer about 1 hour more or until the beef is very tender. Remove the lid for the last 30 minutes to thicken the stew if desired. Remove the stems from the thyme sprigs if you used fresh thyme. The stew can be made ahead of time up to this point.

6. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Spoon stew into 4 oven-proof single-serving crocks or soup bowls. Cut the puff pastry sheet into 4 squares. (You can cut it smaller or larger, or use more than one sheet, depending on the size of the bowls you are using.) Place 1 sheet of puff pastry on top of each filled bowl. Gently press to adhere to the sides of the bowl. Cut 2 to 3 slits in the top of the pastry to allow steam to escape as it bakes.

7. Place the pot pies on a baking sheet for easy transfer to the oven. Bake at 450 F 10-15 minutes or until the puff pastry is well browned. Remove from the oven and let stand 5-10 minutes. The stew under the pastry will be very hot.

Makes about 4 servings.

No comments:

Post a Comment