Stouts are my favorite kind of beer. They range from dark brown to black in color and typically taste of roasted grains, coffee and chocolate. They have a complex and intriguing flavor that is perfect for winter and pairing with warm, deep-flavored dishes.
A misconception that I often hear is that stouts are heavy beers. People assume that dark color means more calories and higher alcohol. But in many cases, it can be the opposite. A stout can have fewer calories and a lower alcohol level than your favorite IPA. In reality, it’s the alcohol level that dictates the number of calories in a beer. As with any beer, there is a range of flavors that are often determined by the ingredients and methods used in the brewing process.
Yet, the confusion is understandable. The term stout was originally applied to any style of beer that was brewed strong. In theory, there could have been a stout pale ale at one point in time. Obviously, that terminology changed since it was first applied to beer in the 1600s. However, it was the stout porter, or strong porter beer, that over time, became known simply as a stout.
Today, though, the difference between a stout and a porter is debatable. There are porters stronger than stouts that are still considered porters. I haven’t heard a terribly clear differentiation, and for that reason, it would only be fair of me to say that I enjoy porters as much as stouts.
Varieties of stouts include milk stout, dry stout, chocolate stout, oatmeal stout, imperial stout, and oyster stout. Each has an interesting history and flavor. The dry, or Irish stout, is the most well-known thanks to Guinness. As the name suggests, dry stouts have a drier taste than others, which might be surprising because when we think of a pint of Guinness, we think of the creamy head that appears upon pouring. But that’s due to the addition of nitrogen, added from a propellent when poured from a keg or a widget that is now added to cans.
Naturally, I love to use stouts in winter cooking. When it comes to cooking with alcohol, whether it’s beer, wine, or liquor, the most important rule is to only use what you would want to drink. You want to like the flavor, because as it cooks and reduces, the flavor intensifies. The strength of the alcohol decreases, but its flavor notes increase. This is especially true when the alcohol cooks for a long period of time, such as in a stew. A good stout adds complexity and depth, which is what I love about the beer in the first place, and I can think of no better place to use stout than in a slow-cooking stew.
This is essentially a beef stew made with stout. It’s called a hot pot because the pot is topped with potato slices, which is how the popular English dish, the Lancashire hot pot, is prepared. Lancashire is a northwestern county of England, where I spent a few months while in college. The hot pot was the first meal I had after arriving and being invited to a nearby community dinner. I had never heard of the hot pot but was happy for a free meal when still adjusting to my new home for the semester.
Lancashire hot pot is typically made with lamb and a variety of vegetables. While this hot pot is a bit different than the Lancashire — the liquid is usually just broth — the concept is the same. There’s meat, vegetables, a potato topping and it’s baked in a large pot in the oven. The stout just adds an extra layer of flavor that makes a simple stew just a little more interesting
Beef and stout hot pot
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
2 pounds stew beef, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon butter
2 onions, halved and sliced
4 carrots, roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups stout beer, your favorite variety
1 32-ounce can diced tomatoes
3 bay leaves
1 pound potatoes, peeled and sliced
½ teaspoon dried thyme
In a large Dutch oven or pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add half of the beef in a single layer without crowding. Cook undisturbed, for about 5 minutes, lowering the heat if the pan starts to smoke. Toss the beef around to brown the other side for another couple of minutes. When well browned, remove from the pan and repeat with the remaining beef.
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.
Set the browned beef aside for the moment and add the butter to the now-empty pan. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally about 10 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, and garlic and cook another five minutes. If things start to stick to the pan, toss in a little more butter or oil.
Sprinkle the vegetables with a teaspoon of salt and the flour. Stir to coat. Pour the stout and tomatoes into the pan, along with the beef and bay leaves. Stir and allow to come to a simmer.
Turn off the heat and arrange the potato slices over the top of the stew. Sprinkle the remaining salt and the thyme, along with a quick drizzle of olive oil, over the top. Put the cover on the pan and place in the oven to bake for one hour.
Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees F. Remove the cover from the pan and cook another 30 minutes. Serve hot.