St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner. And for many of us here in Baton Rouge, that conjures happy memories of a cool spring Saturday enjoying Mary Lee doughnuts and bloody marys in the morning, boiled crawfish and green beer in the afternoon, and the Wearin’ of the Green parade somewhere in between. It’s one of our favorite Baton Rouge events! Alas, thanks to the ongoing pandemic, we’ll have to forego the festivities for a second year in a row.
Still, we have to make the best of it, so we decided to celebrate this holiday by making a truly authentic Irish meal.
Irish cuisine has become much more refined in recent years, and there’s plenty to like about it. What we really appreciate about this style of cooking, however, is that it is simply good, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs kind of food. We went totally traditional and made a soda bread and an Irish-style beef stew. For our sweet treat to top off the meal, we went with a more modern twist on Irish cooking and made a rich brownie fortified with what else but Ireland’s most famous brew: Guinness stout.
Slow Cooker Irish Stew
It’s no wonder with the cold wet climate in Ireland that stews are served year-round, though the weather was not actually the main reason it became such a popular dish. It was a one-pot dish filled with ingredients that were inexpensive and readily available, such as lamb, onions and lots of potatoes. Other root vegetables were sometimes added, like carrots or turnips, for flavor. Everything was thrown into a large pot and simmered down with a little water, broth or beer for a few hours. The result was a hearty, inexpensive meal that would keep families well fed. As Irish immigrants came to America, lamb was replaced by beef, which was more popular and readily available. We have created a delicious rendition of this dish and adapted it to work in a slow cooker. This stew gets its rich flavor from a combination of Guinness stout and beef broth. If you do not have a slow cooker, you can use a heavy Dutch oven or a large pot with a tight-fitting lid.
2 pounds beef stew meat
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, quartered
4 cloves garlic, minced
12 ounces Guinness stout
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cups low-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon softened butter
1 tablespoon flour
3 to 4 raw carrots, cut into chunky pieces
3 medium potatoes, cut into quarters
Season the stew meat with the salt, pepper and dried thyme. Heat a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil.
Brown the meat in a couple of batches to make sure the meat sears on all sides. Place the seared meat into your slower cooker and set it on high.
Place the skillet back over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic. Reduce the heat to low, and carefully pour in the Guinness. Turn the heat back up and use a wooden spoon to scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.
Stir in the tomato paste and beef broth. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer.
In a small bowl, cream the softened butter and 1 tablespoon of flour together. Whisk it into the simmering broth mixture.
Once the flour and butter are fully incorporated, carefully pour this mixture into the slow cooker over the stew meat.
Cover the slow cooker and allow it to simmer on high for 2 hours. Add in the carrots and potatoes, and cook for another 2 hours. Serve the stew along with the soda bread.
Soda breads have been a staple in parts of northern Europe since the 1830s, when sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) was first introduced. It replaced the need for using yeast as a leavening agent in this type of bread, reacting with the acid in the buttermilk and creating bubbles that allow the bread to rise as it bakes. In Ireland, which was a poor rural country with limited access to ingredients, soda bread quickly became a household staple because it only requires flour, buttermilk, salt and baking soda. A traditional soda bread is dense and moist with an extremely hard crusty outside, making it hearty and filling. We experimented with several different recipes to create our own version. Adding butter and an egg helped enrich the bread, while making it a bit more tender and silkier. Many recipes call for sugar to help offset the bitterness of the baking soda. We added honey instead because we liked the consistency. We also incorporated a little rolled oat and milled flax seeds to bump up the bread’s hearty side.
4 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon milled flax seeds
¼ cup rolled oats
6 tablespoons cold butter
1¾ cups buttermilk 1⁄3 cups honey
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
Whisk in the milled flax seeds and the rolled oats, and set this aside. Use a pastry cutter or a fork to cut in the cold butter until the mixture resembles wet sand.
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the egg, buttermilk and honey together until well blended. Pour the wet mixture into the dry. Use a wooden spoon to mix everything into a ball.
Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn the dough out onto it. Knead the dough a few times to make a smooth ball. Cut the dough in half and create two smaller dough balls. This will ensure the bread will bake all the way through on the inside while preventing the outside from becoming too brown.
Place each dough ball onto the lined baking sheet. Use a serrated knife to cut an “X” across the top of each to allow the inside of the soda bread to bake more evenly.
Place the dough into the heated oven. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until the center of the bread is baked through.
Remove from the oven and allow it to cool slightly before serving. Serve the soda bread warm with butter and your favorite jam or preserves. This soda bread is also a great vessel to soak up the rich gravy in the Irish stew.
Guinness Stout Brownies
Nothing finishes off a meal like a little something sweet, and these brownies are definitely a chocolatey treat. They are just the right balance of fudgy brownie and moist chocolate cake. The addition of the Guinness helps to deepen the richness without making them too intense. This is a fabulously rich dessert with a sophisticated flavor profile that will bring out the chocolate lover in anyone—and they’re super simple to make. Your friends won’t believe they’re homemade.
Servings: Yields 1 8-by-8-inch pan of brownies
1 stick melted butter 1 cup plain sugar 1 cup light brown sugar 2 eggs 1 tablespoon vanilla ¾ cups Guinness Stout 1 cup flour ¼ teaspoon salt 2/3 cups dark cocoa powder
Heat the oven to 350 degrees and line an 8-by-8-inch square pan with nonstick foil.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the melted butter and plain and brown sugars until well blended. Whisk in the eggs, vanilla and Guinness. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, sift the flour, salt and cocoa together. Use a wooden spoon and pour the wet mixture into the dry until everything is well blended.
Pour the brownie batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake in the oven for 35 to 45 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
Remove the brownies from the oven and let them cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Use the sides of the foil to help you carefully lift the brownies out of the pan and place them on a cooling rack.
Pull the sides of the foil off the sides of the brownies to allow the brownies to keep cooling another 5 to 10 minutes while you make the chocolate Guinness icing.
Pour the icing over the brownies and smooth it out, allowing it to run down the sides. Place the brownies in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before cutting them to make sure they set up. Slice brownies into squares and serve. Store them in an airtight container.
For Chocolate Guinness Icing:
1 cup dark chocolate chips ¼ cup butter ¼ cup Guinness stout 2 teaspoons vanilla 1 cup sifted powdered sugar
In a large microwave safe bowl, combine the chocolate chips, butter, Guinness and vanilla.
Place into the microwave and heat on high for 25 to 30 seconds. Remove the bowl and stir.
Place the bowl back into the microwave and heat for another 20 seconds. Remove the bowl and stir until the mixture is smooth.
Add in the sifted powdered sugar. Stir until everything is completely incorporated and the mixture is smooth and glossy.
Pour the icing over the brownies using a flat knife to evenly spread the icing. Place the brownies into the fridge to set before cutting.
This article was originally published in the March 2021 issue of 225 magazine.