Eight in the morning, a wet winters day in the Sussex countryside. The sun is rising over the marshes and fields but the pink glow is quickly washed away by grey clouds of rain ...
I walk trough a typical crooked path where the tops of the ancient trees lean towards each other creating an archway over the road, nature's chapel.
Blissfully relaxed I listen to the bustling sound of busy birds in the hedges. Holding my breath, counting robins, coal tits and wrens. They don't even seem to notice or care that I'm standing there.
Then it quiets down, the moment has passed and I walk on.
When I am at home but I have lots and lots to do during the day and not enough time to prepare a lovely meal, a Sussex Stewed steak is my dish of choice.
It really is the easiest dish you can imagine and it comes out of the oven as a warming meal with elegant flavors to enjoy with guests or just for your own family with plenty of leftovers for the next day. The Stout, port and mushroom sauce used, create a mahogany sauce with a deep flavour sometimes - depending on which Stout you use- you find some chocolate notes, and however a humble dish it turns out to be a feast for the palate every time.
For this dish you should use the chuck of beef, an economical cut of meat that has a deep flavour after slowly cooking it for a few hours. It is one of my favourite cuts of meat, it doesn't cost the earth so I go for the best quality meat I can find. I buy grass fed Black Angus but I would love to try it with Sussex Longhorn beef one day. I suspect the Sussex Longhorn or the Sussex Red, will have been the kind of breed used for this dish decades ago.
I couldn't find when the recipe first came to be but it is has been cooked in Sussex and beyond by generations of women. The most famous of women connected to this dish must be Elizabeth David who featured her recipe for the Sussex Stewed steak in her book Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen.
All the recipes I found were all very similar, did they all originate from David's recipe or is this a far older recipe. Why is it called Sussex Stewed Steak? Is it because David gave the dish its name while she was living is Sussex? Or is it named after the breed used to cook this dish, the Sussex Longhorn or Red … Jane Grigson features her version of the dish in her book 'English food', although similar it explains more how to prepare this recipe.
I cooked four different -although all very similar- recipes over the months, and this is the one I feel is the best, adapted from David's and Grigson's recipe.
David as well as Grigson suggests to serve the Sussex stewed steak with mashed potatoes and large field mushrooms. After trying a few other vegetable sides and potatoes, I agree the ladies are of course right.
The Sussex Stewed steak indeed pairs wonderfully with creamy mashed potatoes and sauteed mushrooms.
Sussex stewed steak
- 1 kg of chuck steak in one piece
- Flour to dust the meat with
- 1 large onion, sliced in rings
- half a cup of stout
- half a cup of port
- 2 tablespoons of mushroom ketchup*
- freshly ground black pepper
Mashed potatoes, nice and creamy
sauteed mushrooms, a large variety.
* You can buy Mushroom Ketchup from Budgens, if you can't find it you can substitute it with red wine vinegar.
- Preheat your oven to 160° celsius
- Dust the meat with the flour and place in a baking dish that is just a little larger than the meat. If your meat has some fat, place in the dish with the fatty side down.
- Place the onion rings around the meat and a few on top.
- Pour in the Stout, port and mushroom ketchup, you might think it is not enough liquid but don't add any more than instructed. Trust me.
- Season with freshly ground pepper
- Cover the dish with tin foil
- Put in the lower part of the oven for 3 hours then take off the tin foil leaving just a bit behind to only cover the top part of the meat. If your meat had a fatty side, turn it around now with the fat facing up this keeps the meat from drying out.
- Let simmer in the oven for another hour, this gives the sauce a chance of thickening slightly as you will see it is very runny, it will also color the onions.
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