Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Beef and Beer Oven Stew aka Finnish Merimiespata

Meremehehautis ehk veiselihahautis kartuli ja õllega. Sjömansbiff. Sailor's stew.
Photo by Juta Kübarsepp for the November 2013 issue of Kodu ja Aed magazine.

Last Sunday K. and I headed to a small village called Pedaspea in the beautiful nature reserve Lahemaa in Northern Estonia, to spend a day with his friends cooking, eating, walking, playing Scrabble and generally catching up. We were supposed to bring along the main course, and thus we spent hours last week trying to decide what to make. Eventually we packed along our trusty old 5-quart cast-iron cooking pot (Dutch oven?), my sharp cook's knife, and picked up some nice beef from our local butcher and some potatoes, a bottle of beer and a pot of thyme from the grocery store.

After an hour's drive we arrived in the beautiful location on the seaside, regretting that the weather wasn't good enough for a quick swim, as the house is about 20 metres from the sea:) We then unpacked our groceries, sliced and fried and layered and seasoned the meat and veg, carefully placed our cast iron pot into the oven full of hot coals, and ventured out for an hour to explore the surroundings.

When back, the hosts Ellen and Jaan served us two dishes from Tessa Kiros' beautiful book on Italian food, Twelve: A Tuscan Cookbook. For starters, we had grilled bread with stewed Savoy cabbage (Crostone di Cavolo). And for dessert we enjoyed her Almond Cantucci together with Zabaglione that I had the pleasure of whipping up quickly. And in between those two beautiful dishes we savoured our main course, a Beef and Beer Oven Stew. The recipe I used (actually recipes, as I used three slightly different ones to come up with my own version) is Finnish, and the dish is called Merimiespata or Sailor's Stew. It was my first time to make it, but definitely not the last. There are very few ingredients - beef, potatoes, onions, beer. After initial preparation you can just leave it to slowly cook away in the oven for about 2 hours. And as it already contains both the meat and the potatoes, then it's a meal on its own - no need for a side salad or such like, although crusty bread wouldn't be out of place. And I liked the slightly sharp flavour of the dish given by beer. We used a light Estonian beer (A Le Coq premium, 4.7%), but I imagine many other types of beer would be good, too.

Merimiespata aka Finnish Beef and Beer Stew
Adapted from various sources
Serves 6

600 g lean beef (sirloin is good)
1 Tbsp oil
1 Tbsp butter
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 large onions
1 tsp sugar
1 kg potatoes, peeled and sliced
a 0.5 litre bottle beer (I used A Le Coq)
300 ml beef stock
a bay leaf or two
fresh thyme, to garnish

Lay half of the potatoes into the iron-cast cooking pot, season lightly with salt.
Cut the beef cross-wise into 1.5 cm slices. Heat oil and butter on a heavy frying pan on a high heat, brown the meat slices on both sides (about 3-5 minutes). Season with salt and pepper and place on top of the potatoes.
Peel and halve the onions, slice thinly. Fry gently on the frying pan for about 5 minutes, then add sugar and fry for another 4-5 minutes, until onions are translucent and softened. Take care not to burn them! Scatter on top of the beef slices, together with any pan juices.
Cover with the rest of the potato slices.
Now pour over the beer, then add enough beef stock to just cover the potatoes.
Tuck a bay leaf into the pot, cover tightly and place either into a 175 C preheated oven for about 2 hours, or into a oven full of hot coals.
When finished, test for doneness with a sharp knife (like I'm doing on the photo here). Remove from the oven, garnish with some thyme and serve.
Can be re-heated on the next day or even on the following day.


Katie Zeller said...

I love this - perfect for the cold weather - especially when there are other things to do outside!
Looks like winter has arrived!

lobstersquad said...

gad, you´re cool! I love that off-the-cuff "oven full of hot coals"

Anonymous said...

Oh Pille! What a lovely looking house by the sea and such a perfect place for a cozy weekend getaway! :) Send me some snow please! :)

The beef stew sounds wonderful...and I love the photo of you kneeling by the hot coal oven!

K and S said...

perfect for wintry weather!

Kevin Kossowan said...

That looks like a great meeting of the right food, at the right time, at the right place. Sounds fantastic. I wish the sea was that close to my kitchen window!

Nora B. said...

Hi Pille,
This stew sounds delicious and is easy comfort food that's east to prepare. Although it's warmer now in Sydney, I still make casseroles and stews because it saves time. Thanks for your recipe.

p/s: and thanks for dropping by and leaving all those comments on my blog. I'm glad that I've discovered your blog.

Gloria Baker said...

I think is lovely Pille, really and the pictures really so nice.xx(I'm die with the hot) yesterday we have 34º !!!! Is refreshing to me read about winter and cold times, I love it!!! Gloria

Anonymous said...

Hi Pille
Tchau from Brazil, you just made one of my favorite foods ever! You even managed to make me a bit homesick for the slushy grays of Gulf of Finland in November... If the hot and humid spring weather here cools down a bit, we will definitely tackle this dish here - I have been looking for a good recipe!

Anna (Taikinatyttö)

Shaun said...

Pille ~ Given the gray day, I'm sure that this beef stew went down really well. What an interesting deviation from the Italian dishes prepared by your friend.

I love the photo of the house with the sea in the background. How wonderful to visit such a beautiful location not far away from your own place.

Freya said...

The crusty potato topping is really calling to me!

Mariajaan said...

Wonderful! My grandmother made something similar. Another recipe from her is made with pork, cloves, pepper and Coke. Yes, coke, the usual, the ordinary one. It is very good! Give it a try!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

That looks like the perfect winter comfort food.

Anonymous said...

Best with thick dark ale. My recipe was called 'Sailor's Beef' and I got it from a book on Scandinavian cooking. Same recipe, Norwegian origin, the book said. You're right, it's spot on!

Inne said...

That stew looks so delicious and comforting Pille! I spent the weekend in Belgium (on a quick family visit) and my dad made his beef stew, which is very similar. He always puts some mustard in as well, and uses a dark beer.

Love the picture of your weekend getaway as well, it looks so idyllic!

Inne said...

Pille, I tried to find your email address but no luck: since you really seem to like my Japanese dishes and bowls (or so you told me twice now), I'd like to send you a few small ones. You'll find my email address on my blog (under my profile). Drop me a line?

Christina said...

This looks wonderful, like the best kind of winter comfort food. I bet the whole house smelled wonderful as it cooked, too.

Anonymous said...

Sounds yummy. No cold weather here, but I still may give it a try!

Maddy said...

That looks fantastic! You can't beat a good beef stew.

Jeanne said...

Oh, Pille, how glorious this sounds! Isn't it funny how you don't actually need more than beef and beer (and [perhaps some carbs!) to make asatisfying meal? One of the first things I ever cooked for other people in a strange kitchen was beef brisket in beer and it went down a treat. Love the picture of you kneeling by the "oven"!

ScienceMel said...

Looks like simple, but hardy, comfort food to complement a comforting seaside (even if it was a winter's day).

Anonymous said...

I remember making a German version of a dish like this many many years ago for an international dinner at my high school, and the thing that's always boggled me about it is, if there's no fish in it, why is it called a fisherman's stew? Maybe I think incorrectly about fishermen, but I've got to figure that beef (or pork) would be pretty rare for them! Aaaaanyway... What a nice break you guys had! and cooking in a stove, so cool! Thanks for sharing :-)

Antti said...

Ah, now I know what to do in my new Le Creuset =)

Pille said...

Katie – you’re right, it’s perfect. It just sits in a warm oven and patiently waits for you (just remember to check the liquid levels before heading out!)

Lobstersquad – what, you haven’t got a oven full of hot coals?? Try your fireplace, then. Might work, too :)

Joey – it would be an even better place for a cozy summer getaway – you could run from the sauna straight into the sea!!

K&S – yes, it’s perfect!

Kevin Kossowan – spot on! And yes, it’d be nice to look at the sea while cooking!

Nora B – I’m pleased to have found your blog!

Gloria – well, there will be at cold and snowy posts from now on until March, at least :)

Anna – heippa, Taikinatyttö! Nice to hear from you – it’s been a while. It’s a great Finnish dish, isn’t it?!

Shaun – well, this particular Italo-Finnish fusion menu worked just well..

Freya and Paul – I was pretty pleased with the crusty topping myself :)

SalulaidSolarte – Nigella Lawson has a recipe for a ham in coke. I’m not sure I’m too keen on the idea (I don’t drink soft drinks in general), but I keep that in mind.

Lydia – comfort food in an oven, for sure..

Roxy – I’ll try it with a thick dark ale next time. Finnish? Norwegian? Well, definitely Nordic, so very appropriate here in Estonia :)

Inne – dark beer it is next time (and that’ll be soon!) PS I’ve written you about the Japanese dishes…

Christina – it did smell rather wonderful! But then pretty much anything cooked in a wood fire oven smells wonderful, doesn’t it!

Jeanne - that's the beauty of this oven stew - so few ingredients, yet so much substance and flavour!!

ScienceMel - yep, you're right :)

Ann - I wish I could help you with the name! I've actually written to a Finnish food writer about this dish, hope he'll be able to help!

Antti - and I knew that writing about a Finnish dish would lure you back to Nami-nami:) Congrats on your new Le Creuset! As we've got three 'ancient' cast iron pans at home, we've got no excuse for a Le Creuset one (or Staub for that matter).

Quilly and Maddy – thank you!

maybelles mom said...

thanks so much for this recipe. we made it and it was great. i didn't have the energy for a long post (this comment is almost as long as my post) but thank you.

Anonymous said...

Nice recipe!