This recipe traces its origins to a misadventure. While on our Grand Adventure Road Trip, V & I, fatigued from travel and a long, hot day in New Hampshire, forgot one of the Road Rules that had kept us from disaster thus far. Following hand-made signs indicating "Quilts for Sale," we deviated from the directions on The Clipboard, turned off the highway onto a gravel road that did not appear on the map, and proceeded to make numerous turns down unmarked gravel roads without making any notes on our route.
We did locate the quilt shop, in a very nice lady's front room, but then on our way back to the highway, became hopelessly lost in a vast maze of un-marked, identical, intersecting, looping gravel logging roads through dense forest. Our tummies began to growl. Hunger and fatigue dulled our wits and sharpened our tongues, and we began to snap at one another for only the second time in a month of living in our car. Storm clouds gathered, and a terrifying thunderstorm struck. The gas light came on on the dashboard. We recognized landmarks that told us, not the way out, but that we were going in circles. Stormwater sluiced down the roadside ditches and over the gravel, and the huge trees writhed like living creatures. It grew dark in the stormy woods. We were lost as we had never been lost before. There were few houses, far apart, and none of them looked like anyone was home. This was before the days of GPS, which probably wouldn't have helped us on these unmapped logging roads anyway.
At last, we did locate a house near the road with many vehicles outside and and with lights on. We asked for and were given directions, back to paved roads and the nearest gas station. The storm abated as we found the blacktop, bought fuel, and re-oriented ourselves to the map.
Ravenous, we headed back toward our campsite but wisely realized that we would die of hunger before getting a fire going and preparing a camp-cooked meal. So we turned into the tiny village, only to find no restaurants open (it was a weekday evening in the off-season of an area that only really comes alive for ski season).
Desperate, we headed back out of town, and stopped at a chain hotel with a restaurant in the parking lot. It looked like a cheesy faux-Irish pub, and we did not expect great things, but we were starving. We told the waitress a brief outline of our story and asked her, "what can you bring us right now, without waiting for something to cook?" Soup, she said. There were two soups that day, and one of them was Irish Stew. V ordered the other soup, and I had the stew. As the waitress brought it to our table, the last of the stormclouds outside parted, the setting sun broke through, and a rainbow appeared (I'm not making this up- just ask V!). The Irish stew at that tacky hotel pub was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted in my life.
Long after the Road Trip ended, I was obsessed with replicating that stew. I collected recipes and tried them, one after another, with endless variations. One day 2 or 3 years after the trip, combining at least 3 recipes from different sources, I came up with this one. It is the perfect stew. Rich, meaty, filling, and utterly delicious, it gets rave reviews from everyone who tastes or even smells it.
Guinness Stew is even better as re-heated leftovers than when first prepared. It freezes well, also.
2 1/2 lb beef chuck, or other stew beef, cut in chunks
1/2 C flour (to coat beef)
4 to 6 potatoes, washed (not peeled), & cut in chunks
4 to 6 carrots, washed (not peeled), & cut in chunks
3 Tbsp bacon fat or oil
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp black pepper, coarsely ground
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp tarragon
1/4 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves
1 can or bottle dark Guinness
salt to taste (you will need much more than you think. too little, and the stew will taste flat)
Coat beef chunks with flour. Melt bacon fat or heat oil in large, heavy kettle. Brown floured meat on all sides. Add 1 C Guinness & the Worcestershire sauce; simmer 3 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the pan bottom. Add 1 C water, herbs & spices, & remaining Guinness. Simmer on medium-high 10-15 minutes. Add potato & carrot chunks. Add enough additional water to barely cover. Simmer on medium at least an hour, stirring occasionally. Or, transfer all to a large slow-cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours. If needed, thicken broth with a small amount of flour-water slurry. Add salt to taste and adjust seasoning; remove bay leaves before serving.