In other parts of the country, the hopeful are posting photos of crocuses and fledgling blossoms. In Midcoast Maine we’ve seen snow every day this week. Casual, sideways swirling, winter’s ending but not yet snow. It has not accumulated on the ground; the melt is on and frozen earth turns up with mud. The in-between season that doesn’t raise our frozen spirits with a false sense of warmth or desire. It’s going to be dreary, drizzly, mucky, slushy, sleeting, and chill for another month at least here. And while I very much am ready to emerge from our hibernation, I decided to revel in these last weeks. We’ll stay cozied up inside a little longer. We have books to read and games to play and plants to water and naps to take and baths to splash around in and new spaces to fill with our things and explore and imagine in. And tonight, we also have stew. I like the tactile/olfactory steps of making stew.
First I I sharpened my knife. I hefted an almost 4 pound roast on the wooden board and sliced it into thick steaks, then into cubes striated with muscle and fat. I used clean hands to toss the meat in flour and spice and watched oil glisten in my favorite large Dutch oven. Popping open a brown bottle of cool beer. I never drink beer anymore. I like beer. I used Smithwick’s. It is also good for sipping in the kitchen in the afternoon. Scraping up the brown bits with a wooden spoon. Then the onions – they cook slow and low, transforming. I prepare the other vegetables on the board, very rustic. Finally, everything goes into the pot, to become something better. It simmers. All afternoon it fills the house with goodness. Making dumplings is sticky work. I taste a little of the dough. It is sour and raw. The baby goes to bed, wine is poured, we sit down to the table and eat in quiet gratitude.
Beef and Ale Stew with Buttermilk Scallion Dumplings
Adapted from a recipe in The Sunset Cookbook
For the stew:
- 4 lbs beef chuck, trimmed of fat and butchered into 1 1/2 inch pieces
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
- 2 12 oz bottles ale
- 2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
- 10 oz mushrooms, roughly chopped
- 3 large carrots, roughly chopped
For the dumplings:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup green onions
- 4 1/2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
For the stew:
In a large bowl, coat beef cubes with flour, salt, and smoked paprika.
In a large Dutch oven or stew pot over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Brown beef in 3 batches. Transfer cooked beef to large bowl.
Pour 1 bottle of ale into the pot. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits. Pour ale from the pot into the bowl of beef.
Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pot. Add onions and 2 teaspoons salt. Cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, cover and let the onions cook down and become golden, 20 minutes.
Increase heat to medium-high. Stir 3 tablespoons flour into the onions and cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, beef and ale, the other bottle of ale, and carrots to the pot. Bring stew to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook, approximately 3 hours.
For the dumplings:
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, and green onions. Using your fingers, incorporate the butter until the mixture is like cornmeal.
In a small bowl combine buttermilk and egg. Stir the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and combine until a very shaggy dough comes together. Use a little more flour if necessary to form 24 walnut-sized dumplings.
30 minutes before the stew is finished drop the dumplings into the pot and cover. Remove from the heat and allow the stew to stand and thicken, 15 minutes, before serving.