It’s not hard to make an excellent beef stew, but it’s easy to make a mediocre one. There are a few basics tricks to achieving that depth of flavor that all beef stews strive for and I’m going to share those with you in today’s tutorial!
Nothing speaks comfort like an old-fashioned beef stew on a chilly evening. And throw in a cozy fireplace and a bear rug and the picture is complete. Well, maybe not the bear rug. I don’t want a hairy, pointy-toothed animal gaping at me while I eat. But definitely the fireplace.
Beef stew is almost iconic. It’s defined defined the term “comfort food” for generations. And though many variations exist (such as this delicious Beef & Butternut Squash Stew, Hearty Beef & Barley Stew, and Beef & Vegetable Stew with Cauliflower) , the classic beef stew has stood the test of time and I imagine it always will.
The classic beef stew almost always shares these same common features: Beef that is seared for ultimate flavor and slow-simmered with carrots, celery and potatoes in a rich sauce seasoned with herbs and red wine. Those are the basic elements that combine to make a simple yet phenomenally delicious stew. But more than anything, it’s the method that of preparing it that will transform an otherwise simple dish into a culinary masterpiece. We’ll take a look at those steps in our tutorial today.
Let’s get started!
To Coat Or Not To Coat, That Is The Question
Sprinkle beef with the salt and pepper and then thoroughly coat on all sides with the flour. The question always arises, should I dredge the beef with flour or add the flour with some water later on to thicken the stew? The answer is you can do either. But traditionally coating the beef with the flour is the way to go and there are several reasons for this: The flour helps brown the meat better, the browned flour enhances the flavor of the sauce, and it also enhances the surface texture of the meat. So we’re going to coat it!
Give It Space and Generously Brown It
Heat the oil and butter in a large Dutch oven or heavy stock pot heavy stock pot until good and hot (when you sprinkle a few drops of water in it they should jump and sizzle). Place the beef cubes in the pot spaced about 1/2 inch apart. That’s a crucial step because that’s what will enable you to sear and brown the beef. If the pieces of beef are too close together they won’t brown. Instead they’ll just steam and you’ll end up with really unattractive, bland and gray-colored lumps of beef. Work in batches so all the beef can be properly browned. This is probably the most important step to achieving a great tasting stew. So be patient, it will pay off! Transfer the beef to a plate and set aside.
Keep The Browned Bits!
Now, see all that browned and burnt stuff on the bottom of the pot? Your instinct may be to scrape it out before proceeding. Don’t do it! That’s where all the flavor lies. This, along with properly browning the beef, is the key to a fabulous tasting beef stew.
Add the butter, next we’re going to add the onions.
Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
Do I Have To Add The Wine?
Add the wine and bring it to a rapid boil, deglazing the bottom of the pot (ie, scraping up the browned bits with a wooden spoon). Boil for two minutes or until the wine is mostly evaporated. You don’t have to add the wine if you prefer not to, but the wine will add tremendous depth of flavor to your stew and help tenderize the beef. This is an age-old method peasants used to tenderize poor cuts of meat.
For anyone concerned about the alcohol, between the boiling and the long cooking process most of the alcohol will be evaporated. And wine has a relatively low alcohol content to begin with. In fact, when the beef stew is served you probably end up with less alcohol content per serving than the teaspoon of vodka-based vanilla extract you add to your chocolate chip cookies.
Return that glorious browned beef to the pot.
Take The Long Way Home
Add the broth, tomato paste and the seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 90 minutes. The long, slow cooking process is going to make your beef stew taste exquisite.
While this is cooking, chop up the vegetables. In case some of you ask, yes you can omit the mushrooms. Don’t like peas? You can omit those as well. A red bell pepper would be a great vegetable to add in their place.
After 90 minutes you’ll have a lusciously aromatic and flavorful base.
It’s a Stew, Not a Pot of Brown Gravy
Add the vegetables, cover, and continue to simmer for another hour. No need to add more flour, your stew will be nicely thickened after the hour. The starch from the potatoes will have helped to thicken it as well. Plus, a good beef stew shouldn’t be too thick.
Your masterpiece is READY! And it’s fantastic the next day as leftovers after the flavors have had even more time to meld.
It’s a Complete Meal, But Crusty Bread Always Makes the Perfect Accompaniment.
Dish up and enjoy!
- 2 pounds chuck, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 large yellow onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 4 cups beef broth
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ¾ teaspoon dried rosemary
- ¾ teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 large carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 large celery stalks, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2-3 medium potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 6 ounces button mushrooms, halved or quartered (depending on size)
- 1 cup frozen or fresh peas
- Chopped fresh parsley for garnishing
- *See the pictured tutorial for more info on the tips to creating the best beef stew.
- Sprinkle the beef chunks with the salt and pepper. Sprinkle the flour over the beef to coat all sides.
- Heat the oil and butter in a large Dutch oven or heavy stock pot until hot (when you sprinkle in a few drops of water they should jump and sizzle). Add the coated beef chunks, spacing them out about ½ inch from each other and, working in batches so as not to overcrowd, generously brown the beef on all sides. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Add the onions with another tablespoon of butter to the Dutch oven (do not remove the browned/blackened bits in the bottom of the pan) and cook until soft and translucent, 5-7 minutes (add a little more oil or butter if necessary). Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the wine, bring it to a rapid boil, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and boil for 2 minutes or until the wine is mostly evaporated. Return the beef to the Dutch oven.
- Add the broth, tomato paste and seasonings. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 90 minutes.
- Add the vegetables, cover and cook for another hour. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve hot sprinkled with a little chopped fresh parsley.