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Savoury Beef Stew with Champ

While my friends and family have been enjoying unseasonable warmth in Toronto, Victoria and Cape Breton these past few weeks, we haven’t had a day warmer than 19 degrees so far in Ireland. Not that I’m complaining about the weather – I’m actually relishing the fact that my final months of pregnancy won’t be spent in the 40 degree sauna that is a Toronto summer. In total fairness, we’ve had very few awful days since we moved.

That said, my winter cooking habits haven’t changed all that much, even though it’s spring. The chill in the air, most days, is enough to make me want to curl up on the couch, in front of the fireplace with a big, hot bowl of something stodgy. Hence this beef stew.

I grew up on stews. When I was a kid, I hated them.

Turnip? I wouldn’t touch the stuff.

When I got older, as one does, I started craving them. But not necessarily the ones I grew up on (which are more like East Coast boiled dinners – another post for another time). I craved rich, caramelized flavours and well reduced sauces. Fork-tender vegetables and falling-apart chunks of chicken, beef or lamb. When I learned the proper technique for stew-making in culinary school, I never looked back.

Instead of chopping potatoes and adding to the stew, I prefer to make a mash and serve it alongside. Champ has been one of the most enjoyable Irish food discoveries I’ve come across over the years – a creamy mash mixed with chopped scallions. Enlivened with buttermilk and a knob of fresh butter, it’s the perfect accompaniment to this rich, meaty stew.


Savoury Beef Stew with Champ

For the stew:

1 lb beef brisket, cut into cubes

1/2 pkg streaky bacon (or lardons), roughly chopped

1 large onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 bay leaf

1 sprig thyme

1 sprig rosemary

1 L (4 cups) beef stock

Salt & Pepper

1 medium rutabaga, cut into 1 inch cubes

2 large carrots, cut into 1 inch cubes

Juice from one large lemon

For the champ:

6-8 potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

1/4 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup butter

Salt and Pepper

1 bunch scallions, finely sliced


  • In a large pot or Dutch oven on the stove top, heat olive oil on medium. Add streaky bacon (or lardons) and fry until the fat has rendered and the bacon is cooked. Remove bacon from the pot, but leave in the grease.
  • Turn the heat up to high and add the beef. Brown the beef completely on all sides (if the bits on the bottom of the pot are getting too dark, adjust the heat accordingly). When the beef is browned, remove from the pot.
  • Turn the heat back down to medium. Add the butter and chopped onion. Allow onion to cook for about a minute, then add garlic, bay leaf, thyme and rosemary. Continue to cook on medium for 5 minutes, or until the onion is tender and browning from the fond on the bottom of the pot.
  • Add tomato paste and stir to incorporate. Add back into the pot the beef and bacon, including all the drippings and juice from the meat.
  • Add the beef stock and stir the pot until everything has melded. Bring to a boil.
  • Once boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer. At this stage, you can transfer the contents to a slow cooker or just keep everything in the pot. Cover and allow to simmer for 1.5 hours.
  • While the meat is simmering, peel, wash and chop the rutabaga and carrots. Set aside.
  • Peel, wash and chop the potatoes. Put them into a separate pot and cover with water. Set aside.
  • Slice the scallions and set aside.
  • After 1.5 hours, remove the lid from the pot. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes (to start reducing the sauce).
  • After 30 minutes, add the rutabaga and carrots. Continue to simmer for another 30-45 minutes.
  • While rutabaga and carrots are cooking, bring the pot of potatoes to a boil. Boil until tender, about 20 minutes.
  • After 45 minutes, if your sauce has not reduced enough to coat the back of a spoon, turn the heat up and allow to boil and reduce, stirring occasionally to avoid anything sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  • Once the sauce has reduced to your liking, pick out the bay leaf, thyme and rosemary. Adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and  lemon juice.
  • When the potatoes are fork tender, drain and mash with butter. Add the buttermilk and season with salt and pepper. Add in the scallions and whip everything together.
  • Serve the stew over the champ (the stew is even better the next day so save your leftovers!).
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