One day I came home after work to a dense cloud of beefy goodness hanging over the Scheidt Haus. Never one to complain about dinner being on the stove when I walk in the door, I eagerly listened to Steve’s description of beef and potatoes with a stout gravy. It smelled divine, and I was starving. The beef was on the table, and Steve was on his way with the gravy.
Fortunately, he tasted it first.
Turns out, if you combine a bit of fat, a can of Murphy’s stout and a cup or two of beef broth and gently simmer them for thirty minutes, you will produce a rich, glossy substance that smells like glorious gravy. The first spoonful is meaty and fills your mouth with umami tingles… and then smacks you with a tongue-scraping aftertaste that will redefine “bitter” in your sense memory.
Every molecule of bitterness in the beer was not only preserved during the reduction, but was fruitful and multiplied in a beef broth bath. It was so acrid that a single spoonful sent each of us running to the sink for something, anything, to dissolve the repugnant throat-coating film. (It was definitely a “This is so gross! You have to try it.” moment.)
We had beef without gravy that night.
Over a year later, I resolved to slay the stout gravy dragon. Of course the Cook’s Illustrated folks showed me the way, even though I do silly things like forget to dry and salt the beef. In this version, the gravy is sweetened with dried plums, which are simmered along with the sauce and then pressed through a fine-mesh sieve to create an intensely beefy, not-bitter-in-any-way Guinness gravy. It tastes like sweet meat redemption.
Beef Short Ribs Braised in Guinness
From The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook
For this recipe, you need a large pot with oven-safe handles, like a Dutch oven. The recipe calls for boneless short ribs, which I used, and then replaces the gelatin that would usually come from the bones with gelatin from the store. If you only can find short ribs with bones, get extra and bone them before starting. The dish could have used more carrots than it called for, so feel free to veg up. Serve over lightly buttered egg noodles dusted with parsley.
3 1/2 pounds boneless beef short ribs, excess fat trimmed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large onions, sliced thin
1 tablespoon tomato paste
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup Guinness stout
1 cup beef broth
4 (or more) large carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup pitted prunes (dried plums)
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (like Knox)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Pat the trimmed beef dry with paper towels and season well with salt and pepper.
In a Dutch oven or another large pot with an oven-safe lid, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add half the beef and cook until well-browned, 4-6 minutes per side. Add a little more oil if the pan starts to smoke. Transfer the browned ribs to a dish. Repeat with the remaining meat and oil. Remove all the meat from the pot, but keep the browned bits and any rendered fat.
Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onions and cook until softened and beginning to color. Add a few tablespoons of water to the pot if they stick. Add the tomato paste and stir well to combine. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Immediately add the Guinness, broth, carrots, herbs, prunes and beef (along with any juices). Increase the heat to medium-high, cover the pot and bring it to a simmer. Transfer the pot to the oven and cook until the meat is extremely tender, 2 – 2 1/2 hours, turning occasionally.
Transfer the meat and carrots to a serving platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Pour the cooking liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl. Make a point to press the cooked prunes through the strainer and extract the thyme stems and bay leaf. Extract all possible liquid, then set it aside for five minutes to separate. Discard the remaining solids.
At this point, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a small dish and set it aside.
Spoon off as much fat as possible from the cooking liquid. Return the liquid to the pot and stir in the gelatin. Cook until reduced somewhat to a sweet, meaty gravy. Pour the gravy over the meat and serve.