[25] Beef Stew Variation 1

How to Cook Everything, Revised Edition by Mark Bittman

Beef stew isn’t really considered your average summer dish. I wouldn’t typically make it in the summer any more than you would. I think of beef stew as a deep winter dish, full of warmth and flavor, and no small amount of fat. It’s most certainly not “summery”, “light” or “refreshing”.

However, guess when none of that matters? When it’s the middle of summer, you have most of the ingredients on hand, and you accidentally thawed stew meat instead of beef chunks for stir-fry. At that point, you make stew and be thankful you can get a blog post out of it!

Actually, it turned out quite nicely, and I’m looking forward to making it again when the weather cools off. And given we live in Chicago, Bill and I should have plenty of cold weather in which to repeatedly make this dish.

h2. Ingredients

2 tbsp neutral oil or extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, lightly crushed

1 tbsp minced garlic (These two will be used at separate times, hence the separate listings.)

2 – 2.5 lbs boneless beef chuck or round, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 – 1.5″ cubes (I did poorly at geometry. My “cubes” are “odd shapes”.)

Salt & freshly ground pepper

2 large or 3 medium onions, cut into eighths (This is surprisingly difficult to do when your onions are weird shapes.)

3 tbsp all-purpose flour

3 c liquid (non-fish stock, water, wine, something adventurous.) Be prepared to add more.

1 bay leaf

1 tsp fresh or 0.5 tsp dried thyme

4 medium to large potatoes, peeled & cut into 1″ chunks (He calls for “waxy or all-purpose”. I have no idea what this means.)

4 large carrots, cut into 1″ chunks

1 c fresh or thawed frozen peas (I LOATHE peas. You will only see peas in a recipe on this site if Bill cooks it and doesn’t feed it to me. Blame my father.)

Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish (I think I’ve mentioned that garnish almost, but not quite, universally fails to happen in this house.)

h2. Instructions

Heat a dutch oven over medium-high heat for 2 – 3 minutes, then add the oil & the crushed garlic clove. Cook this for about a minute, stirring it all around the pot, then discard the garlic. At this point, brown the meat on all sides. Likely, your pot is not large enough to brown all the chunks properly at the same time, so do it in batches. While the meat is browning (in batches), sprinkle it with salt & pepper. Use your best judgment.

Remove the meat with a slotted spoon. If there is excess fat in the pot, pour or spoon most of it off and turn the heat down to medium. Add the onions and cook until softened, stirring often (~10 min). Add the flour and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Then add the liquid, bay leaf, meat and thyme, and bring to a boil. Then turn the heat down to low, cover and cook, undisturbed, for 30 minutes. That means no peaking.

After 30 minutes, remove the cover and check out the contents. The mixture should be “wet”, and if it’s not, add some more liquid as needed. At this point, toss in the carrots & potatoes, then bring the mixture back up to a boil. Once it boils, lower the heat, put the cover back on, and cook for at least 30 to 60 minutes, until the meat and veggies are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Then add the minced garlic and peas (if you use them). If the stew is the right consistency for what you want to eat, cook 5 more minutes over low heat, covered. If it’s too thin, uncover and cook over high heat to boil off some of the liquid, also for about 5 more minutes. Garnish, if you’re garnishing, then devour!

h2. Cooking and Consumption Notes

h3. Cooking

I will say to pay attention as you’re cooking during the “attended cooking” times. I forgot to add the crushed garlic clove at the beginning. I bet that would have dramatically improved this, just because garlic is AWESOME. However, it was fairly straightforward to brown the meat, even in batches.

As you’re taking the meat out and putting the onions in to cook (after the meat is browned), my directions say to spoon off excess fat if there is any. Bittman just directs you to spoon off most of the fat. My directions are worded as they are because I had no excess fat. In fact, I would say I had a nearly dry pan by the time my meat was finished cooking. I didn’t add more oil, and that is probably fine, but be aware that there may not actually be enough fat to be worth spooning any off.

Also, at that point, stir the onions fairly regularly. I was preparing the first parts as I was getting ready to go work out with our buddy Rob, and the onions probably took a lot longer to soften than the allotted 10 minutes, because they weren’t stirred. So, again, pay attention during this “attended cooking” point. It worked out just fine for me, no burning or anything, but I might have just lucked out. Be aware, and chose accordingly. Obviously, if you need to be preparing to go workout with a friend, maybe it will work out for you too.

The directions don’t say anything about this, but for part of the cooking, the meat is not over any heat. I kept it at room temperature, and I think that was the proper choice, especially to further encourage the meat becoming tender once it is cooking in the stew. Furthermore, I just kept the meat on a plate; I didn’t drain it at all. I think this is the right choice, but again he doesn’t say. I didn’t drain it mostly because there’s not a lot of fat to drain out, but there’s always a lot of “meat juice” that drains out of something that is just quickly browned like this. That’s a bunch of flavor that would be lost if you drain your meat on paper towels, or even just picked up the meat with tongs or your hands and plopped it in.

In other words, the correct way to add the meat back into the stew is to lift the bowl or plate the (room temperature) meat is on and dump the entire contents into the stew. If you do it any other way, you’re missing out.

After the meat is added to the stew, you cook it. First for a 30 minute chunk of time, then for another 30 – 60 minutes of time with the root veggies. I always follow the recipes on this, and I always regret it. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest you cook your meat for at least 45 minutes for that first chunk of time, then add the root veggies and cook for the full 60 minutes the second time around. This way, the meat will be more tender. I always find that the meat is never tender enough if I follow the recipe’s directions for cooking time, and if I remove as much fat/connective tissue as I feel the recipe directs. So, use your best judgment, but I still suggest lengthening the cooking time.

h3. Consumption

The recipe calls for 3 c of basically any liquid. I used about 2 c of homemade chicken stock and 1 c red wine. It was a red wine I love to drink, but is also fairly inexpensive. This combination gave the stew a nice flavor of red wine without overdoing it. I would probably try again with more and more wine, since that’s often a winning combination, but I imagine it would eventually be too much. I don’t know where that line is, though, so experiment for yourself.

A recent (within this calendar year, I believe) Cooks’ Illustrated talked about using chicken stock in a beef dish they were using. They said that they had to forego this option, because the chicken flavor was simply too overwhelming as compared to the beef in the dish they were making. I don’t recall the exact dish, unfortunately, but I will say that I did not have such an issue here. It is, however, entirely possible that this is because the wine ended up being the dominating liquid flavor.

Overall, this was definitely a delicious dish. I wish the meat had been more tender, but I’m certain a longer cooking time would have helped that.

Also, next time I’m finding a way to add mushrooms. One variant he does is a beef stew with mushrooms, but it doesn’t contain the root veggies. I think all would be a delicious combination.