Wednesday 22 January 2014

Slow cooker ale-braised beef with dumplings

Ale-braised beef with dumplings
With Christmas came a new batch of cookbooks to add to to my stash and with that a temptation to flick through them but never cook a thing from them. Help is at hand through Dom at Belleau Kitchen and his Random recipes challenge.

The idea, as the name suggests, is that you pick a cookbook at random and then go through the pages and pick a recipe to cook at random. I got four lovely books this Christmas – Lizzie Kamenetzky: The Great British Bake Off Winter Kitchen, Mary Berry & Lucy Young: At Home, Fiona Cairns: Bake & Decorate, and Mary Berry's Christmas Collection (signed!).
We decided to take the whole randomness very seriously and assigned each of the above books a number from 1 to 4 and entered them into the appropriately named Out spat number 1 which meant The Great British Bake Off Winter Kitchen. To get the page I entered in the numbers 14 to 294 as these are the ones with recipes on. Out came 141 and on that page is a recipe for hot-water crust pastry. Mr JibberJabber was quite delighted by this and still remembers the giant pork pie we made many Christmases ago. However, the recipe was just for the pastry to make 6 individual pies and no filling. The previous recipe for ginger and chilli beef raised pies used this pastry but requires 6 x 220ml metal pudding basins and I don't own a single one. So, I tried again and it came out as 119 which is a picture of Ale-braised shin of beef with walnut dumplings. I have to say this was quite a relief as it wasn't something extraordinarily technical but still tinged with a little disappointment as I do make something similar with my Beef, Bacon and Guinness Casserole.

To start with this recipe is designed for six people and there are just the four of us to feed so I have amended the quantity of beef needed. I calculated that it was asking for 800g of shin beef for four which seemed a lot of meat unless you are a family of four pumas. I couldn't find shin beef but I did get two packs of 450g diced braising steak reduced so I ended up using 900g of beef. After this was cooked and dished out we found that we had enough leftover for another two portions and so this has been put in the freezer. Therefore my version of this recipe still feeds six people but with 300g less beef than the original!

I don't have any fresh thyme or bay at the moment and I wasn't prepared to go to a garden centre to buy one of each so I resorted to my dried supplies. The recipe calls for just one carrot which seems very mean for four people let alone six so I've upped this to three carrots. The major change I have made though is that this a casserole to be cooked in the oven. I don't think I have ever cooked a casserole in the oven and the casserole dish I own certainly isn't big enough to cope with these quantities. I've had a slow cooker since my parents bought me one at university because the kitchens in the halls of residence had only a hob and microwave.

Of course the star of this recipe is the ale. It states to use brown ale and this conjures up visions of Newcastle Brown and Manns but I was after something local. I consulted my in-house expert in Mr JibberJabber and he suggested a visit to the Archer Road Beer Stop.

It certainly is a rarity of shop in this day and age and most likely to be described as a 'gem'. I can't dispute that. No supermarket is ever going to stock that range of beers or give advice on which local beer constitutes a brown ale. Apparently brown ale doesn't have a very good reputation amongst real ale aficionados so breweries aren't keen on terming their beers as such. Therefore you need to look out for a dark amber coloured beer and it was suggested we try Spire Brewery's 80 Shilling Ale. The 'Shilling' categories were a Scottish 19th century method of pricing a hogshead of beer based on its strength or quality. Don't be fooled by the tartan label as it is brewed in Chesterfield. The other beers in the photograph are all from local breweries within the triangle of South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire.

With such good providence I am sending this over to Elizabeth at Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary and her Shop Local challenge.

As this recipe has a selection of herbs, both dried and fresh, I am also sending it to Karen at Lavender and Lovage for her Cooking with Herbs challenge.
Cooking with Herbs

Serves 6 – Can be frozen


2lb (900g) Diced beef (cuts such as shin, stewing or braising steak)
1 onion, sliced
2 Celery stalks, chopped
3 Carrots, sliced
3½ oz (100g) Chestnut mushrooms, quartered
3 Garlic cloves, crushed
1tsp Dried thyme
2 Dried bay leaves
1tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
½ pint (300ml) Beef stock
Black pepper to season
6 Shallots, peeled plus a small amount of butter to fry them
If necessary to thicken cornflour mixed with cold water


3oz (80g) Self-raising flour
2oz (55g) Suet
1 tbsp (15ml) Flat-leaf parsley (chopped, including stalks)
2-3 tbsp (30-45ml) Water, to mix


1. Pre-heat the slow cooker to HIGH while you prepare the vegetables.
2. Add all the ingredients for the casserole except for the shallots in the slow cooker.
3. Cook for 4-6 hours on HIGH.
4. Towards the end of the cooking time prepare the dumplings by mixing together the flour, suet and parsley in a bowl.
5. Add the water one tablespoon at a time until the mixture binds together.
6. Divide the mixture and shaped into 8 dumplings. Put to one side.
7. In a small frying pan heat the butter and lightly fry the shallots until they start to colour.
8. Add the shallots into the slow cooker and stir in.
9. If you wish to thicken the casserole mix 1 tablespoon of cornflour with 1 tablespoon of water, pour in and stir.
10. Place the dumplings on top and cook for at least another 20 minutes.
11. Before serving take out the 2 bay leaves.

We served ours with roast potatoes and Yorkshire Puddings.


  1. That dish is just SO right for winter evening. I love it. I also love that shop. I thought shops like that had disappeared. Gem is an appropriate word.

    1. I thought it dated from about the 1950s from the look of it but it opened in 1982. The daft thing is these days it can be so hard to get local products because supermarkets have national policies. We must strive hard to keep these sort of shops open!

  2. What an absolutely amazing recipe! I love it and it seems to me that lots of older cookbooks do indeed have many "gems" hiding amongst their pages! Karen

    1. You can't beat a slow cooker full of beef on a cold winter's day. A classic recipe!

  3. This looks so good. I agree it is important to strive to keep shops such as these open. They are more precious than actual gems (the stone ones)

    1. As much as I do love supermarkets, and I can go to all of them round where I live, it would be a very boring world if we were just left with chain stores.

  4. My goodness! This is PRECISELY the dish for the kind of cold shiver-y weather we have suffered her in the States this winter! I love the look of your dumplings! Perfect atop that lovely stew! Great post and excellent photos selling it!

  5. This is just the type of post I was hoping people would write for the shop local challenge - it's got it all, fantastic photos, a mouth watering recipe and you've done your research too! I love it! Thank you for sharing with Shop Local!


I appreciate your comments. If you have any tips, tricks or tweaks please pass them on!