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Perfecting Basic Beef Stew


Forest
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I like to stir in some fresh chopped thyme and/or parsley just before serving. If you can get your hands on a copy of Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles cookbook try making up a batch of his demiglace as described in one of the introductory chapters, it's time consuming but not difficult - you can store it in ice cube trays in the freezer, a cube or two is a great "secret ingredient" addition to stews, soups, sauces etc.

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I love stew, and am in total agreement with those who have already mentioned buying a known cut and cubing it yourself--that is the only way you know what you've got, and you can ensure that all of the pieces will respond to cooking the same way. I like chuck.

Agree also with those who say no flour before browning. It tends to muddy the flavor. Not said, but equally important is (1) salt the pieces for 30 min or so before browning, and (2) brown in as many batches as it takes to brown, and not stew your meat. You aren't cooking it at this step, just quickly browning the outside to develop flavor.

My other suggestions are to stop your veg from turning mushy, you can separate them by cooking time. Long ones in the stew for the full treatment, medium ones, cook separately or add in the last 30-45 min or so, short ones, like peas go in at the last minute so they dont turn grey and ucky (technical term). Personally I would steam rather than saute, because more of your flavor is going to come from the stew pot, not whatever seasoning or fat you cooked the veggies in--they are going to get diluted anyhow.

Once you perfect your technique, flavors and combos can be varied pretty much endlessly. Choose a base, like wine or stock, that sets the tone, then spice according to where you want to end up--Belgian, Morrocan, Vietnamese, Brazilian, etc. Plain old fashioned beef-potato-carrot-pea in a red wine/stock base might be "basic", but it sure is tasty when it's done right.

Oh, and it you have a pot that can go in the oven, cook it low and slow. Seems to cook more evenly than stovetop.

Edited by tamiam (log)
Oil and potatoes both grow underground so french fries may have eventually invented themselves had they not been invented -- J. Esther
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Again, thanks to all for the great tips!

Ann_T:  that photo makes my mouth water!

highchef:  thanks for the info on the tomatoes - I think you've hit the nail on the head.  Irish stew is a great choice, too.  A friend's mother was over from Ireland last month and made a nice big Irish stew for lunch - she used both beef and lamb (don't know if that's typical or not, but it was good!)

Shalmanese:  I got a good laugh out of your asterisked admission! :biggrin:

Another question - anyone have a preference on the size of the meat chunks for the stew?  I think I make my smaller than the norm: 3/4" or so - I have the idea that smaller chunks mean there's more seperate pieces of meat to get a little in every biteful.  But, that's just me! Any thoughts?

I like to season my meat (beef), with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic and then dredge in flour. Sautee in corn oil until browned--do in batches so as not to crowd. I then remove the meat and instead of de glazing I actually make a gravy with water and more flour if necessery, and add to the stew with the meat. Really helps with the consistancy. I also add a whole jalepeno or two with the other vegetables.

Cooking is chemistry, baking is alchemy.

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To echo what many others have said:

-I marinate the meat in red wine or a little balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic overnight.

-I do brown lightly floured meat to develop fond. Then, I brown tomato paste till caramelized in the leftover drippings before adding in the vegetables/dry herbs + meat and finally the liquid

-I've found that good-quality store broth is perfectly acceptable, but homemade broth can make a huge difference

-If you're not adding the vinegar at the very end, you might want to try that. I find that the brightness it adds dulls quickly unless it's added a the very last minute.

-If you love spicy food as much as I do, you might want to add a vinegar-based hot sauce in place of some of the vinegar

-To add some thickness, a beurre manie does work very well. Sometimes I add roasted garlic into the butter/flour mix for flavor purposes.

-More experimental additions that have worked well for me:

Chipotles in adobo sauce

Citrus zest or orange juice

smoked paprika

Good luck in your quest!

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Every Sunday I make a stew for the roomie and myself.  Kev likes his stew basic (like wasn’t crazy about it when I added cinnamon and ginger to the chicken stew).  I almost always make a very basic beef stew.  So, after making beef stew about 50 times, it’s kind of losing its excitement.  (cooking-wise, not eating-wise)

So, now I’m becoming obsessed with perfecting it.  Here are some of the things I’m doing to achieve a better stew (it’s meat, potatoes, carrots, peas, onion):

To make it tender, I’m sautéing the meat cubes over high heat to sear the outside but not cook the inside.  I don’t bring it to a boil, but let it simmer for a long time and throw a spoonful of vinegar in.

To thicken it I’m dredging the meat in flour before sautéing.

To flavor it, I’m adding thyme, sugar, beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. I used to sauté the veggies in butter before adding them, but I stopped doing this because I couldn’t taste enough of a difference for the extra work.  (anyone disagree?  I could add the step back if anyone thinks it’s worth it)

I read somewhere about deglazing the pot after cooking the meat – but not sure why I would do that.  I’m cooking the meat in the same pot I’m making the stew in, so the good stuff on the bottom of the pan ends up in the stew.  Any reason I should deglaze?

I’m using boxed tomatoe puree. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that as I imagine the collective sigh of EGers around the world shaking their heads and wondering why I’m not making my own! Maybe that’s a step worth adding?

If anyone has any good tips for making better beef stew, please let me know – thanks!

First, what cut of meat are you using? Try to make sure you are getting meat with enough connective tissue, sometimes this is easier said than done. Next crucial element is the sear on the meat, dredged in flour and seared but not burned. I like to caramelize my mirepox next in the rendered beef fat. When my mirepox is nice and brown I add my beef back to the pot and pour in a bottle of a good port style beer(guiness is ok too). I let this reduce Au Sec(almost dry) this part is important because it imparts alot of flavor and depth to the stew. Then I add the stock and simmer for 4+ hours, season however you like, i usually just use S&P and bay leaf at the beginning. If it is growing in my window box I add some fresh parsley at the end. I LOVE beef stew.

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No one's mentioned boiling some beef bones from the butcher (free to $2 for

a big bag) for the broth. I spend most of the time on that, letting it simmer

for a couple hours along with some onion, garlic, celery ends and a bay leaf.

Meanwhile, brown some veal chunks. Veal doesn't need to be simmered

endlessly because it starts out so tender! I used to dredge in flour, but I think

I'll try the sprinkle method mentioned to see if it makes a difference. Deglaze

with red wine or a bottle of good quality dark beer. Add to bone pot (which has

been drained, 'course, leaving just the broth) along with potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, maybe some peas and corn, barley, dollop of horseradish, splash of worcestshire, thyme,

S&P, simmer until cooked -- enjoy! I used to add diced tomatoes, but find I don't like

the taste, makes it kinda sweet. I've heard about adding cilantro at the end for a

bit of a kick. Anyone done that?

I've never made a chicken stew. Is it as easy and basic as it sounds, or are there

endless variations as well?

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Wow...so many good ideas!

(Feedbag: I'm sure there are probably just as many variations on the chicken stew, but again with chicken, I go pretty basic - cut up whole chicken, boil it, remove meat and add to homemade chicken stock with vegies and seasonings and noodles at the end! And, with chicken stew, I do find it makes a world of difference using homemade vs. store bought stock!)

Happy stewing!

52 martinis blog

@52martinis

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  • 1 month later...

Hi Everyone...

I haven't forgotten all the great beef stew tips you've given me and am sitting down this afternoon with a better bowl of beef stew thanks to them.

Thanks to your suggestions, I've, among other things:

-stopped flouring before and add a butter/flour mixture to thicken at the end

-carmelized the tomatoe paste

-added wine (which makes a HUGE difference...don't know why i didn't do this before - maybe I'm always too busy drinking it? :blink: )

I haven't had a chance to try some of the other suggestions like the cracklings, the dumplings or the demiglaze, but will do so when I have more time!

And, here's the stew today:

gallery_23864_4213_65189.jpg

52 martinis blog

@52martinis

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What is stewing beef? I mean, what larger cut are these chunks from? I have tried using stewing beef, but I always find, no matter how long it is simmered, the meat stays dry. The pieces will fall apart, and unless I pour lots of gravy on them, I don't enjoy the texture.

I've always used beef shortribs, but they are very fatty. The fat is skimmed off before thickened, but it is still quite rich. The meat is very tender, but shortribs are not always available. So, is chuck the best bet?

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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What is stewing beef? I mean, what larger cut are these chunks from? I have tried using stewing beef, but I always find, no matter how long it is simmered, the meat stays dry. The pieces will fall apart, and unless I pour lots of gravy on them, I don't enjoy the texture.

I've always used beef shortribs, but they are very fatty. The fat is skimmed off before thickened, but it is still quite rich. The meat is very tender, but shortribs are not always available. So, is chuck the best bet?

In my experience, meat chunks sold as "stewing beef" are very lean and cut from the round. I prefer to use cuts from the chuck. I try to get a large piece of chuck in cryovac from a place like costco or sam's club then I cut it up myself into cubes. Since the chuck i s actually a few different kinds of muscles the stew ends up with varying textures, which I like. And with the trimmings I make beef stock (by also adding beef necks from the local ethnic store to get collagen, very cheap).

If you want your meat all one texture you can just use chuck steaks. Usually anything around the blade is best. Again, make some stock from the trimmings.

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Yum, Forest! A few questions:

What cut of meat did you use?

What kind of wine?

How were the leftovers? (did you even have any?)  :wink:

Thanks, Sony!

I put in Syrah because that's what I happened to have on hand last weekend. The weekend before I put in whatever I had opened (can't remember what it was...) I'm sure there's one that would go in there really nicely...so I'll just keep expirementing until I find the best one!

And, as for leftovers, I made a huge batch so there's plenty to share with friends that stop by on Sunday and have a little left over for dinner on Monday. (I use a very BIG pot!) :smile:

In my experience, meat chunks sold as "stewing beef" are very lean and cut from the round. I prefer to use cuts from the chuck. I try to get a large piece of chuck in cryovac from a place like costco or sam's club then I cut it up myself into cubes. Since the chuck i s actually a few different kinds of muscles the stew ends up with varying textures, which I like. And with the trimmings I make beef stock (by also adding beef necks from the local ethnic store to get collagen, very cheap).

If you want your meat all one texture you can just use chuck steaks. Usually anything around the blade is best. Again, make some stock from the trimmings.

I definitely agree with the "stewing beef" not being the best choice. In fact, in that particular picture it was the first time in about 50 beef stews that I tried using stew meat (at the recommendation of someone i was shopping with who assured me it would be good.) But, although the flavor of the stew was really nice, the meat just wasn't as nice as what I usually use which is chuck. Occassionally, I'll use biftek (which i probably shouldn't be using, but if I have it in the house, I will!)

52 martinis blog

@52martinis

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  • 2 weeks later...

Here is my secret for GORGEOUS stew:

1. parboil, then cut salt pork in large dice and render over low heat in a cast iron dutch oven or similar. Remove it once well rendered.

2. brown the stew meat (without flour) in the rendered pork fat on high heat.

3. proceed with your recipe and the other variations mentioned

Really. I was stunned also. Nothing beats it! :cool:

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  • 1 year later...

Last night I was looking for an interesting potato recipe in the Williams-Sonoma potato cookbook. The book has great photos of the plated recipes, and one of the photos included a picture of beef stew. The sauce just glistened and wrapped the meat and veggies in a comforting blanket of goodness. Boy, talk about comfort food. Today is cold and grey, and it's raining. It might be a good day to make some beef stew. Does anyone have a good recipe that they'd care to share?

I'd like something with a thick sauce that has not been thickened with lots of flour - something along the lines of a well-reduced braise, maybe with some wine in it? Just a thought - maybe make the stew with something other than chuck roast. What would you suggest? Round? I don't mind a firm textured meat in the stew. Perhaps with some potatoes (what kind), carrots, peas - what else might be good - mushrooms maybe? Onions?

I've never made a beef stew before so any suggestions are welcome. Thanks!

Edited by Shel_B (log)

 ... Shel


 

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I have a couple. Bomo's Chuckwagon Stewhas been my go-to beef stew for at least 20 years. It was my grandmother's stew and the only thing that she cooked well! It only has 1/4 c. of flour and that's used to dredge the meat before browning. Also, have you thought about doing beef bourguignon? That recipe is very good and can even be done in a slow cooker. I've always done it in my large le crueset, but I was originally given the recipe as a slow cooker dish. Hope these help!

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There's also the daube eG Cook-Off, where you can see me crow about Paula Wolfert's version. That may be more work than you want, but it certainly fits the bill.

I'm a big fan of Paula Wolfert, and over the years have made a few of her recipes, a number of which were "a lot of work." Thanks!

 ... Shel


 

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I use beef short ribs for stew with carrots, potatoes, celery (leaves as well), and onion. The veg are left in large chunks so they don't break down completely. I brown the flour-dredged meat, deglaze with a splash of red wine, and add beef stock. All this is brought to a boil, then simmered in the oven for about 3 hours. I use a cast iron casserol. This was the way my dad made it back in the '40s (without the wine tho')

You can reduce the broth after it comes out of the oven, or thicken with potato starch slurry. I buy packaged potato dumpling mix (can't remember the brand) and these are great for soaking up the gravy.

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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This is very timely - hunky beef short ribs were just on sale at the Korean supermart, so I bought 4 lbs and am craving a good stew (why not, the weather is lovely here in Houston post-Ike). I was also checking out the Daube thread and the SW France daube recipe, but it looked a little daunting. Then I found the Red Wine Glazed Short Ribs with Porcini and Rosemary in All About Braising, and it seemed like SW France Daube-lite. I need to check out the braising thread to see what others thought of it, but it might be an idea for you as well.

...wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile. --Alexander Pope

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re: The browning technique suggested in the Carbonade recipe: I find it nearly impossible to brown any kind of meat with vegetables already/still in the pan. There's some sort of steam/sweating effect that is never present when the two are browned separately. And I always get better results by doing the meat FIRST, then any vegetables.

That's almost exactly our old family recipe for any kind of beef-and-gravy dish, excepting the ale or beer, of course. And we're a strange family---we especially like Brussels sprouts as one of the vegetables, added late in the cooking.

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