Beef and Guinness casserole

My Dad told me a while ago that he doesn’t enjoy stews and casseroles which use stout as a base; he finds them, he said, bitter. This is an opinion shared by a lot of people, and it’ s such a shame; the only reason the stout casseroles you’ve eaten in the past have been bitter has to do with length of time in the oven. Cooked at a low temperature for several hours, the beer will magically turn into a rich, sweet and glossy sauce, and there won’t be a hint of bitterness. Promise.

The preparation of this dish doesn’t take too long, but you’ll need to leave it in the oven for at least three hours – if making if for lunch, I usually make it the night before, leave it in the fridge overnight and reheat. Like many casseroles, it improves with keeping.

Stout, for those who are only familiar with good old Guinness, is a generic term for a very dark, heavy beer made with roasted malts and barley. You can use any stout; it doesn’t have to be Guinness. Stout has a toasty, dry flavour; buy a couple of cans to drink with the meal.

I used:
2 1/2 lb rump steak, cubed
3 red onions, quartered and split into layers
2 cans Guinness (or other stout)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic, squashed
1 jar of pickled walnuts, halved
2 tablespoons of juice from the walnut jar
2 tablespoons flour
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Pickled walnuts are another curiously English thing; walnuts picked before they are ripe and pickled whole in a sweetened vinegar. They’re perfect with sharp English cheeses like cheddar; sweet and tangy, with a lovely nutty aroma. I use Opie’s pickled walnuts; they do look like tiny roast mouse brains (that’s one in the photo at the top, nestling to the right of the meat and kind of indistinguishable from it), but they’re extremely good. Leave them out if you can’t find any (English supermarkets carry them all year round with the other pickles), and add the juice of a lemon and a tablespoon of sugar instead.

Preheat the oven to a very low setting (140c/275f).

Brown the meat in olive oil in small batches. (In the picture on the right, it’s just been browned. There is only half a glass of Guinness because I have drunk the rest of the can already. Oops.) Use the pan you’ll be cooking the casserole in, over a high flame, and remove the browned meat to a dish. You can really go to town with the browning; you want a good deep brown, almost charred finish to give the flavour depth. When the meat is removed from the pan, add some more olive oil, and add the onions to the pan, stirring them until their edges are also a little charred. Return the meat to the dish with its juices, and stir in the flour (which will help to thicken the sauce). Continue stirring for a minute, then add both cans of Guinness, the herbs and garlic, and the pickled walnuts and their juice. Season, bring to a simmer (hard to spot, this; Guinness gets very frothy when you make it hot), and then put the lid on and put the dish in the oven.

Three hours later, you’ll have a rich and unctuous casserole. The meat will be incredibly tender, dark brown and full of juices. I served it with some mashed King Edward potatoes, with quarter of a pint of boiling milk beaten into them, some truffle-infused olive oil and a sprinkling of thyme. I’d like to try making this with Young’s Chocolate Stout some time; there’s a world of chocolate beer out there just crying out to be cooked with.

9 Replies to “Beef and Guinness casserole”

  1. Instead of Guinness,I use double chocolate stout and shetaki mushrooms,another good alternative is Guinness Foreign extra,these stouts have a deeper more complex flavor also adding a star anise really enriches this wonderful winter comforter.
    Tadg McLoughlin
    Mcloughlins Irish bar and Restaurant,
    Kyoto Japan

  2. Bottled Guiness is more bitter than tinned draft Guiness which is smoother. To add another dimension to this casserole add in the peel of half an orange which you take out at the end of the cooking time, alternatively finely slice the peel and include it.

  3. I am from Canada, but have spend a great deal of time in the UK during which I have fallen in love with steak and ale casseroles. I am just wondering, are the walnuts absolutely necessary to achieve the end result? We don't sell them in Canada so I have no idea where to get them… Also, is there a substitute for them?

    Thanks kindly! Can't wait to try the recipe.

  4. Hi Taya

    Pickled walnuts, while traditional in stout/beef casseroles out here, aren't strictly speaking *necessary* – they're just very nice. You should be able to make this very successfully without them. That said, I also found an online shop that sells them and that I think will deliver to you; they're well worth ordering not just for this recipe, but for nibbling at with a hunk of cheese. Amazon in the US seem to do them to – hope you can get your hands on some! (I note that the Amazon page has a review saying someone found them surprisingly sweet; pickled walnuts *are* quite sugary despite the word 'pickled', so don't be shocked by the sweetness if you buy them.)

  5. Thank you so much for this post.. I once cooked steaks in ale sauce which basically was top round simmered in ale with onions and a few other ingredients.. It smelled heavenly, looked beautiful and was so bitter neither my husband nor myself could eat them… I’m so glad to see I didn’t just mess it up… I will be trying your rendition …You’ve made this cook feel a lot better!!!

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