Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Beef stew failure


Recommended Posts

I think we may be talking at cross purposes: I am suggesting that if you want maillard in a braise, you want to brown the outside of the meat at the highest possible rate to minimize the cooking of the inside. I suggest that the problem with the original poster's stew was that by trying to deep fry it you are only cooking the meat at around 375 degrees, and you are completely surrounding it: it's awesome for actually cooking things, but since you don't WANT to cook the meat, but just brown it, it doesn't work. By the time the meat is browned even a little, it's turned to leather.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think we may be talking at cross purposes: I am suggesting that if you want maillard in a braise, you want to brown the outside of the meat at the highest possible rate to minimize the cooking of the inside. I suggest that the problem with the original poster's stew was that by trying to deep fry it you are only cooking the meat at around 375 degrees, and you are completely surrounding it: it's awesome for actually cooking things, but since you don't WANT to cook the meat, but just brown it, it doesn't work. By the time the meat is browned even a little, it's turned to leather.

We are talking at cross purposes because Mssr. Maillard doesn't enter into this because the question is not about flavor.

I did suggest the possibility that the meat was killed instantly, but I don't buy that given that it was taken to a lesser degree of browness than from the pan in previous iterations. The fact that it would then take a longer cooking period logically follows.

We both brought up high browning temps because we can. But even my power burner on my expensive stove can't produce much more than 400 degrees in a pan (my grill can kill that). But there are a lot more good stews created on a daily basis in this country than people with high BTU capability.

Bottom line: stews don't need great heat. Stews often need more time.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The first thingI did when I joined eGullet was to read my way through the braising lab. It took a few evenings but it's a wonderful resource, highly recommended to those who haven't read it. Probably the most surprising result for me was that the browning process didn't seem to add anything to the final result in terms of flavour, but I don't feel like it's my place to summarise the results here. Work your way through the archives!

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think browning is more important for the look of the meat than the flavor, though it does add some to the sauce. You can cook a stew/braise without browning and it will be perfectly fine, perhaps not quite as flavorful, but it can still be delicious, all other things being equal.

I went back to double-check my Bittman recipe (via the iPod/iTouch app) and see if, indeed, he does call for 90 minutes. Yup! He even says timing after initial 30 minutes can be 30-60 minutes more, i.e., total braising time of 60-90. Maybe a one-inch cube might cook that soon (his recipe calls for one to one-and-a-half inch cubes), but that's not been my experience.

I've been using Harold McGee's technique for a couple years (browning, then putting into cold oven).

McGee says to quickly sear pieces a minimum of an inch per side, then into the cold oven, turn it on to 200 F and let it cook for two hours, then increase heat to 250 for another hour, at which time you begin checking for tenderness. Once cooked, let it sit outside the oven in its braise to cool, allowing it to reabsorb some of the liquid. Then make a sauce. Great for making in advance and sticking in the fridge, then gently reheating for serving (you can microwave at a low setting with no harm).

According to McGee, too high a heat dries out the muscle fibers. And the low temp for a sustained time allows the collagen to soften into gelatin, giving you that great mouth-fee.

btw, outside of carbonnade, where I use beef, much of the time I'll braise veal (breast, shoulder or leg); Bittman has a great recipe for a veal braise that calls for not much more than riesling as the braising liquid, though I usually add a bit of shallot.

Bob Libkind aka "rlibkind"

Robert's Market Report

Link to post
Share on other sites

I blew it all round. I didn't even read Bittman accurately.

... I went back to double-check my Bittman recipe ... He even says timing after initial 30 minutes can be 30-60 minutes more, i.e., total braising time of 60-90.
That said, I suspect I needed to go well beyond 90 minutes to get the chewiness / texture under control. I will use a very hot skillet to do a more judicious browning.
Link to post
Share on other sites

The only thing searing does is add color and flavor. You can also read more about it in books like What Einstein Told His Cook, written by a nuclear chemist with a passion for food. You can't waterproof a piece of paper by browning it.

And no one said to sear a 1" cube for 30 secs at 800 degrees for all sides. You'd obviously end up with a charcoal briquette. If you think the best way to brown a piece of meat is to deep fry it, why does the rest of the world sear their steaks, stew meats, roasts... No science here required, just experience.

Link to post
Share on other sites

If you think the best way to brown a piece of meat is to deep fry it, why does the rest of the world sear their steaks, stew meats, roasts... No science here required, just experience.

Using the same logic, if Keller poaches lobster in a beurre monte, why does the rest of the world boil or steam their lobsters?

There are different ways to do things.

Link to post
Share on other sites
... And no one said to sear a 1" cube for 30 secs at 800 degrees for all sides. You'd obviously end up with a charcoal briquette. ...
... a more judicious browning.

The key word here for me is "judicious". I believe a brief and hot sear in very little oil is the general consensus here on how to brown. I have in the past browned too long and too dark, and my most recent experiment in deep oil searing worked all too efficiently and added to the drying and toughening. I then compounded that by cutting off my cooking in liquid too early.

I had too many variables going at once and couldn't sort out which was doing what. In one meal I was changing my browning technique, adding wine, adding some tomato, cooking for a shorter overall time... Everyone here has clarified the process for me. Thanks!

Edited by cbread (log)
Link to post
Share on other sites

"It's not the cut of the beef....even the toughest, gnarliest beef will soften with enough cooking."

There is a difference between a stew or other slow cooked beef dish that has flavorful beef with structure and not mush. Using any old cut or 'Super Market Beef' and cooking it long enough (crockpot comes to mind) will certainly make the beef fall apart but at what cost?

It is possible to have a nice stew or beef Bourguignon with beef that stays in cube form, is not stringy and has taste and substance but you need to acquire a USDA Choice cut such as chuck at the minimum.-Dick

I'm thinking of dishes like stracotto, where the beef's so-called "stringiness" is a desirable outcome. Heck, modern Americanized stracotto recipes tell you to shred the beef with two forks, should you be too impatient to allow the cooking to achieve the desired texture. Not all stews seek to achieve your previously stated ideal of texture. Many peasant dishes from other cultures do indeed cook the meat into a consistency you might find unacceptable--but I've eaten many a delicious stew fashioned from ingredients that are far below "choice".

Stracotto is more of a pot roast but there are dishes such as 'Salpicon de Res' where flank steak is specifically called for because of the grain structure of the meat where the flank does shred nicely after cooking but we are not discussing those dishes. We are discussing beef stew and why its tough.

Beef stew is not meant to be shredded and should consist of cubes of meat reasonably intact and palatable to chew when the cooking is done. Actually the high end would be a dish such as Beef Bourguignon' where any Michelin class restaurant would not use anything other than a cut of beef that would provide a tender end point.

Your 'Supermarket stew' is an unknown quality and with most large grocery chains receiving all their meat pre cut and packaged, the stew meat comes from anywhere and anything. Even stores that cut meat usually only receive Primal cuts from which there is littler waste and must supplement with pre cut 'Stew Meat'. Very few stores receive beef halves and cut to have a sufficient supply of 'Stew Meat' and even then that is no guarantee of quality. Beef carcasses are Graded by a handheld device that measure fat content but a USDA Choice carcass is not the same as any other USADA Choice carcass because we are dealing with an agricultural product where uniformity doesn't exist. I search out a store that has in the past supplied USDA Choice beef that has been consistently good and purchase a nicely marbeled piece of Chuck. I trim and cut myself because its the only way to produce a beef stew that has the required tenderness, and is not mushy or stringy.

The Original Poster's only error was not cooking long enough as the recipe specified.

BTW a Googled Bittman recipe for Beef Stew http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/17/recipe-of-the-day-beef-stew-with-prunes/ calls for Chuck and cooking time is a little ambiguous calling initially for 60 to 75 minutes but later cook until tender.-Dick

Link to post
Share on other sites

Tonight I did a sorta quick dinner that is the ultimate in comfort for me... it's a childhood favorite, as cooked by my grandma. I don't know if you can really call it "stew"... maybe meat/veg in broth?

Anyway, 7-bone chuck roasts are on sale for $2.99 lb. I grabbed a small one on my way home from work. I hacked it into chunks (maybe 2"?), seasoned, dredged in flour and browned in olive oil in a deep cast iron pan. After browning, poured in about 1.5 cups of "broth" made with hot water and Better Than Boullion beef base. I let that bubble away while I prepped 3 carrots, 3 celery stalks, 3 smallish onions, 8 small new potatoes and a box of cremini mushrooms. Dumped in all the veg and cooked until tender. All told, it was maybe 90 minutes from start to finish. The beef was perfectly tender and melty. Just good comfort food that made me happy.

I don't buy "stew beef", because I never know what it is. When chuck roasts are on sale, I buy them and hack into chunks. I didn't actually use the entire roast tonight... froze the unused part, along with the bone and will use that for soup soon.

Link to post
Share on other sites

From my struggles with beef stew, especially trying to make stew from chunks of beef bottom round roast, I can see two likely problems:

(1) Time. To make the final stew pieces soft, flexible, moist, and 'succulent', have to cook long enough to soften the collagen. Have to do this somewhere near 160 F, and it takes time. Even starting with chunks of USDA Choice chuck roast you will need ballpark two hours.

For more details, say, for pork shoulder BBQ, can use 18 hours in a 220 F oven. There is a long 'stall' near 160 F, that is, a period of some hours where the temperature increases only very slowly. After this stall period, the temperature will start increasing again to, say, 180 F.

(2) Temperature. If get the temperature of the beef much over 180 F for very long, then the lean fibers will shrink, lose their moisture, and become stiff and brittle. Your chunks of beef will be shrunken, hard, brittle, and dry.

Then I will absolutely, positively, 100% iron-clad guarantee you that more cooking will NOT give soft or tender chunks. Instead you will just move to something with texture somewhere between wood and charcoal. Been there; done that; got the T-shirt: After 96 hours, I gave up -- those hard, dry, brittle chunks of wood were NOT going to become succulent stewed beef. Period.

Stewing chunks of USDA Choice chuck roast is a piece of cake and nearly fool proof if just stay within the lines of traditional techniques.

E.g., for the initial step of browning, make that FAST so that the interior of the meat does NOT get very hot. In particular, my guess is that your initial browning step got the meat too hot and ruined it -- your stew was a failure then with no possibility of recovery.

If try to do something even a little outside the traditional techniques, then need to consider the remarks on time and temperature above.

Someday when I get a good constant temperature water bath, maybe I will try to make beef stew from even bottom round roast, grass fed (more collagen, less fat), less good than USDA Choice, but I already know it won't be easy. Likely here on eG user NathanM has more information.

E.g., as at

http://modernistcuisine.com/about-modernist-cuisine/table-of-contents/

consider

Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet, 'Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking',

and there in particular

Volume 5: Plated-Dish Recipes

Chapter 20: Tough Cuts 40

* Braised Short Ribs

* Modernist Pot-au-Feu

* Hungarian Beef Goulash

* Osso Buco Milanese

* American BBQ

* Cassoulet Toulousain (Autumn and Spring)

* Historic Lamb Curries

* Sunday Pork Belly

Yes, there is the common, old remark that stewing will make any tough chunk of lean meat from an old cow or bull succulent. Nope: That's just a myth.

The easy thing to do with such meat is to leave it whole, roast it or braise it as a whole piece (does better at keeping in the moisture and have better protection against overheating), and then slice it very thinly across the grain. For more, do what Escoffier recommended, grind it!

What would be the right food and wine to go with

R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 months later...

I'd like to wrap up this thread for "closure".

It's been a while since I made the rugged stew that prompted this thread. Taking everyone's very helpful comments to heart, I recently made a vastly more satisfying stew. The meat was the same supermarket "stew beef" but with reduced initial browning in minimal oil followed by a much longer slow cooking.

Thanks to all!

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd like to wrap up this thread for "closure".

It's been a while since I made the rugged stew that prompted this thread. Taking everyone's very helpful comments to heart, I recently made a vastly more satisfying stew. The meat was the same supermarket "stew beef" but with reduced initial browning in minimal oil followed by a much longer slow cooking.

Thanks to all!

Thanks for getting back with us.

You know, I've made stew several times since this thread, and I never fail to think of it and you and wonder how you're doing.

And I've reflected on the fact that I had a large family to raise and cook for, all the while on a tight budget, and beef stew made with whatever was the least-costly option available was a huge help in that effort. So I was positive your problem was not the "supermarket beef stew."

If you think about it, supermarkets sell literally tons of the stuff, and not to highly-trained chefs, but to the mass market. It's highly unlikely they'd be able to do that so successfully for so many decades unless the average home cook could fairly easily produce a decent pot of beef stew with "beef stew meat."

Pleased to read that indeed you managed to do just that.

__________________

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I did fine with stews till I mis-read a cookbook and at the same time gave way too much weight to oft repeated instructions I hear on cooking shows to not scrimp on browning. I seem quite good at reading instruction carelessly and taking good advice too far.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...