These steps are the key to a perfect beef stew every time.
A bowl of piping hot beef stew on a cold winter’s evening... throw in a fireplace and a bear rug and the picture is complete. Well, maybe not the bear rug, but definitely the fireplace.
Beef stew has defined the term “comfort food”for generations. It’s one of those dishes that has stood the test of time and though many variations of beef stew exist, the classic beef stew always shares the same commonalities: Beef 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.
Making a great beef stew is a simple process, but there are a few key steps that are absolutely crucial to make the masterpiece our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were famous for. In today’s tutorial we’re going to cover a few tips that will transform an otherwise simple dish into a culinary masterpiece.
We’re going to use a few “classic” beef stew ingredients, but feel free to make some alterations to your liking. Don’t like mushrooms? Leave them out. Like turnips and bell peppers? Toss a few in. In the end, it’s largely the method of making a beef stew that is the most important factor in achieving that rich, wonderful flavor.
Okay, the first important step is to pat the beef cubes dry. That’s important for being able to properly sear the beef and get that delicious browned crust that is so key to the flavor of the stew. So take a couple of paper towels and blot the beef dry on all sides.
Sprinkle with salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Freshly ground pepper has such a fabulous flavor! The pre-ground stuff in tins from the store gives you a little heat but not much flavor. So use the good stuff. Pull out the whole peppercorns, put them in a grinder, and grind away!
Sprinkle the flour over the beef cubes and toss them around to coat them on all sides. Some skip this step and add the flour in later as a thickener, but the traditional way is to coat the beef with flour before frying. There are at least three 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, coat that beef!
Heat the oil in a heavy stockpot until good and hot. Throw a few drops of water in the pan and if they jump and sizzle it’s ready for the beef. Place the beef cubes in the pot spaced almost an inch apart. That’s such a vital step because that’s what will enable you to sear and brown the beef. If the cubes are too close together they won’t brown, instead they’ll steam and you’ll end up with really unattractive grey-colored flavorless lumps of beef.
Properly spacing and browning the beef means you’ll need to work in batches. This is the only prep step that will take a little time, but be patient because it is so worth it. In fact, this is probably the most important step in achieving a great tasting stew. So whatever you do, don’t skip it!
Brown the beef on all sides, and don’t be afraid to brown it generously – all the more flavor. Transfer the browned beef to a plate and set aside.
Now, by the time you’re done browning the beef you’ll end up with a pot that looks like this. Thinking about cleaning out the bottom of the pan before continuing? Don’t you dare. That’s where all the flavor is! This is probably the second most important key to achieving the ultimate flavor. Keep all those browned and blackened bits where they are! We’re going to “deglaze” them in a moment and the flavor is going to do wonders for your stew.
Add the onions to the pot (add a little more oil if it’s too dry) and fry until soft and translucent, about 5-6 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook for another minute. You don’t want to fry the garlic too long or it will become bitter.
Pour in the wine and bring it to a rapid boil. The wine is going to give the stew a wonderful depth of flavor and will help tenderize the beef even further.
Then “deglaze” the bottom of the pan by scraping up the browned bits.
Return the beef to the pot.
Add the beef broth and seasonings. Return it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for an hour. The long, slow cooking process is also key to achieving a great flavor and super tender beef.
While the beef is simmering, chop up the vegetables.
Add the vegetables to the pot, return to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for another full hour. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Voilà! You now have a thoroughly mouth-watering, tummy-satisfying and soul-comforting beef stew that will have everyone clamoring for seconds. Serve it with some crusty bread for a complete meal.
Note: This stew also tastes fabulous the next day after the flavors have had time to meld.
For more great stew recipes, visit Kimberly’s food blog, The Daring Gourmet.