It’s almost twenty five years since I first set foot in the John Peel Inn in Bowness on Windermere. It was only supposed to be for a week’s work, but it would be more than three years before I was to finally leave. I’d say my plans have a habit of turning out this way, but that would be to imply that I’ve ever actually had a plan in the first place. On that first day I’d never even heard of Theakston’s Old Peculier (no, not ‘Peculiar’ but ‘Peculier’), a dark strong ale, let alone drunk a pint of it, or ever dreamed of turning it into a casserole. And there was no way I could have known how much water was to flow under those particular bridges in the years that were to come.
My employers were Michael and Vivian, and I owe them both a debt of gratitude for what they taught and gave to me during those three years. From Michael I learned how to cellar fine traditional ales, and how to approach the bar of any four star hotel with insouciance no matter how many unruly golden retrievers I was wrangling at the time. Whilst Vivian taught me not only how to cook, but how to care about my cooking, and that doing so was no bad thing. I have had reason to be grateful for all of these in varying degrees over the years, and if you’re reading this Michael or Vivian, I thank you.
In the pub kitchen we’d make great batches of Old Peculier Casserole with forty pounds of diced beef and chopped onions measured by the bucketful. A cauldron large enough to accommodate a skinny teenager [‘Mark! Get out of that pan!’] would quietly tremble away all afternoon and anyone passing through the kitchen would know to take the huge wooden spoon and give it a good stir. As I’m working from memory and scaling this down considerably for the benefit of those who are feeding less than 100 I have had to extemporise here and there, but when I made this recently it really didn’t seem a million miles away from the original.
With the catering quantities method there was no opportunity for browning the meat, softening the veg, deglazing the pan, and all the things we’ve become conditioned to think are essential when making a casserole. We simply tossed everything into the pot and allowed the ingredients and the alchemy of long, slow cooking to do their work. So that is what I have tried to recreate here. This would probably work very well in a slow cooker too if you have one. NB this needs to be made at least the day before it is to be eaten.
Feeds two, plus one for lunch the following day
- 400g chuck steak or other casseroling beef, cut into 1.5cm dice
- 500ml Theakston’s Old Peculier
- 400ml beef stock
- 150ml water
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 bouquet garni [preferably thyme, parsley, bay and marjoram]
- 1 additional bay leaf
- 100g mushrooms, sliced very thinly
- around 1 tbsp cornflour mixed with water to thicken
Tip the beef, onion, liquids and herbs into a casserole and slowly bring to a simmer over a low to medium heat. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and place in a 150˚C oven for four hours. Ignore. After the four hours cooking time remove the casserole from the oven and, back on the hob over a low heat, add the cornflour to thicken whilst stirring gently. Remove from the heat, add the mushrooms, and stir well to combine – they will cook as the dish cools. Cool and refrigerate for at least a day, two would be even better, three if you can bear the wait. Serve with a buttered baked potato, and maybe a glass of Old Peculier. Or two.