About Me

I have been cooking my way through life for over 50 years, beginning with mud pies as a child. I've turned a corner now and feel a Renaissance in my life. Recipes and Random Thoughts is my personal spin in a blog about how to prepare good food and how it prepares you for life. I want to share with you, honest to goodness food punctuated with perspective from the special memories and moments that have marked my journey.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Beef Stew - Which Method is Best?

That's a good question but it's like deciding which is the best way to roast a chicken.  Just the word "stew" implies something complex and substantial. There are lots of acceptable methods and a wide variety of ingredients.  The key to beef stew is to start with good quality meat.  Don't just buy a package labeled stew meat, it could be anything including the scraps that fell on the butcher's floor.  I suggest buying a chuck roast and slicing it into 1 inch cubes, after that, it's hard to screw up.  Slow cookers are a possibility as are really long sessions on the stove top.  Liquid ingredients vary with stock and wine and perhaps a splash of brandy - the vegetable options are endless.  For me, the critical steps are how the meat is browned and how the stew is thickened - the rest is up to you.  I like the meat lightly dusted with seasoned flour and then browned in a neutral oil.  It solves two issues in one, browning and thickening. Without question, I prefer the browning on a cook top, adding the liquids and flavor enhancements to a heavy dutch oven,  then cooking covered in a 350 degree heated oven for a while and then uncovering with vegetables added periodically for appropriate cooking time.  Cooking covered in an oven always insures an even temperature surrounding the stew and the end product is tender meat and vegetables that aren't mush in a sauce that coats them the way a proper sauce would cling to pasta.  This recipe include "pee wee" potatoes which may not be available but any red skin potato cut into bite size works. I know short cut are tempting but if you love beef stew, this is time well spent.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3 lbs of chuck stew meat
 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Kosher salt and pepper
3 tbls canola oil (adding more as needed for browning)
32 oz. beef stock
1 cup hearty red wine (a good pinot noir)
4 garlic cloves chopped
1 tbls chopped fresh thyme or 2 tsp dried
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 tbls Worcestershire
4 ribs celery cut in 1 inch pieces
4 carrots cut in 1 inch pieces
1 lb. pee wee potatoes
1 cup frozen pearl onions

Pat the beef dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Put the flour, 1 tbls salt and 2 tsp pepper in a plastic bag.  Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium until shimmering (2-3 mins). Add 10 to 12 pieces of meat at a time to the flour mixture and shake to coat. Shake off the excess flour and brown in the oil on all sides in batches.  Adjust the heat as needed to prevent burning but still get a nice brown. Remove browned meat to a plate and cover with foil.  Half way through the browning process cut the heat and wipe out the accumulated fond in dutch oven with paper towels (or sooner in fond turns black). This is a lot of meat to brown and brown fond will enhance flavor but burned will not.

After all the meat is browned, return all to the pot.  Add the beef stock and wine, garlic, thyme, Worcestershire and tomato paste. Season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to the oven to cook for 1 hour.  Remove from the oven and add the celery and carrots, then back in the oven for 30 more minutes. Remove and add the potatoes and pearl onions. Cook uncovered 30 more minutes.

Check the vegetables by piercing with a knife or fork and correct seasoning.  Sim off any excess fat. Serve and garnish with parsley.  Freezes well.




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