Beef & Onion Hotpot

Inspired by a flavour-filled french onion soup that I enjoyed at Ballymaloe last weekend (Food Writing Course with Hugo Arnold), I wanted to cook something where the onion was the hero of the piece.
Onions & Shallots
Onions are both prolific and cheap along with being tremendously under-celebrated.  Yet how many dishes start with a gently sauteed or lightly browned onion?  There are countless.  Writing this has me reminding myself to buy a jar of pickled onions soon, an oft forgotten standby that will jazz up many a dull sandwich.  A great tip to fool the masses is this – if you hear the key turning in the door or the screech of ‘What’s for Dinner Mom?’ and dinner is far from started quickly chop and begin to fry an onion and you’ll give the illusion that great things are happening in the kitchen.  In this dish the onion is firstly sweated then fried and then stewed to maximise flavour.
Beef & Onion HotpotBeef & Onion Hotpot with thyme sprig
Beef & Onion Hotpot
Serves 6
You will need:
4 medium onions
4 shallots (I used banana shallots, they come in all shapes, sizes & varieties)
50g butter
2 to 3 tbsp rapeseed oil or olive oil
1kg stewing beef pieces
A little plain flour to sprinkle on beef
250ml vegetable stock – from stockcube is fine
500ml beef stock – from stockcube is fine
4 or 5 thyme sprigs plus extra to garnish (use 1 tsp dried thyme if can’t get sprigs)
8-10 medium sized potatoes
50-75g cheddar cheese
Method:
Preheat the fan oven to 160C / Gas Mark 4.
Peel and slice the onions and shallots, keeping them in rings.
Melt the butter in  a large saucepan over a low heat.
Add 1 tbsp of oil and the onions/shallots.  Put a lid on and leave the onions to sweat for 10 minutes while you prepare the meat.
Heat 1 tbsp of oil to a large frying pan and heat to medium/high.
Brown the meat pieces sprinkled lightly with a little flour  in batches – don’t overcrowd the pan.
You may need to add more oil in between browning batches of meat.
Once browned remove the meat pieces to a large casserole dish – you may need to use two depending on size.
By now the onions should be well softened so add them to the frying pan that the meat was cooked in and stir well to mop up any remaining meat juices.
Continue to cook the onions on a high heat until they begin to change colour and are turning golden.
Add the onion in with the beef in the casserole dish and mix well.
Deglaze any remaining juices and sticky bits in the frying pan by adding some of the stock and scraping up with a wooden spoon.
Add all the stock to the meat and onion in the casserole dish and then push in a few thyme sprigs.
Cook in the covered casserole dish in the oven for at least 1.5 hours and up to 2.5 if you have time which will result in more tender meat.
Around 40 minutes before the end of the cooking time scrub the potatoes but leave the skins on.
Thinly slice them and boil in a saucepan of water until just turning tender – around 5 to 8 minutes.
Drain the potatoes and arrange slices on top of the beef & onion stew and then grate the cheddar cheese on top.
Return to the oven turning up the temperature a little and cook (lid-off) for a further 20 – 30 minutes until the cheese has melted and turned golden brown and the potatoes are cooked through.
Serve with a garnish of thyme sprig.
Enjoy.
Til next time, Sheila

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