Friday, January 7, 2011

Beef Stew

Last week I made the best stew I have ever made. I am not entirely sure how to account for this stew success. It's not that my previous stews have been bad, this one was just particularly good. I have a few theories, however, as to why this batch was especially yummy:

-I used my cast iron Dutch oven, which really helped to brown the meat.
-I deglazed the heck out of the pot with a lot of red wine. (If you are not squeamish about profanity, lewd jokes and wildly inappropriate sexual innuendo, I highly recommend the episode of South Park titled "Creme Fraiche" where Stan's dad becomes obsessed with the Food Network and starts saying things like, "I'm gonna delglaze the #*&% out of that pan!" Hilarious.)
-I coated the beef cubes in salt, pepper and flour before I browned them.
-I used a bunch of baby bella mushrooms that were about to bite the dust.
-I used about 3 cups of stock made with Better than Bouillon. I suspect that this stuff is not exactly the healthiest of food products, but it did add a nice richness, and saltiness, to the stew.

Now, you could follow a recipe to make a stew, but that's not really my style. Whenever I read recipes for something like stew, or most soups for that matter, I end up feeling like it is just all too complicated. Of course, the "recipe" that I end up improvising is probably no simpler, but it feels easier somehow. Here is an approximation of my best stew ever. Perfect for a Sunday supper and then a weeknight dinner and then the freezer bank.

  • Chop one large or several small onions, 5 or more carrots and 3-4 celery stalks, 10 plus mushrooms. Peel and quarter 8 medium Yukon gold potatoes. No need to be neat and tidy. Large chunks are good.
  • Set all of the veggies aside and get out a package of beef cubes. About 1 1/2 pounds. In a mixing bowl, stir up about 1/2 cup flour and a hefty sprinkle of salt and pepper. Throw the beef in to the bowl and shake it around to coat all of the pieces. 
  • Coat the bottom of a large pot or Dutch oven with oil, brown the beef cubes in batches and set aside. Careful not to char the bits on the bottom of the pan. Here is the point when I should warn about not overcrowding the pan: You should work in batches and you should not crowd the pan....but if you do, no biggie. Don't sweat it. You are making stew, for goodness sake, it's not that precise. (For a hilarious take on crowding the pan, check out this entry from Jenny and Andy in  Dinner a Love Story.)
  • When the beef is all browned, toss the chopped onion, celery, and mushrooms into the pot. Add some crushed garlic too. Stir it all around and when the veggies have softened, pour in some red wine. Don't be shy. Dave reminds me that a beer would work too - just choose something robust like a porter or dark amber. Bud Lite would be a mistake, I fear. 
  • Now add the carrots, potatoes and about 2 cups frozen peas, if you have them. Stir the mix around.
  • Add the beef cubes back into the pot, too.
  • Add about 3 cups of beef stock until you achieve the thickness you like. It will thicken as it cooks, too. I used the Better than Boullion method, but any stock/broth will work.
  • Let this all cook for at least an hour. It is better on day two as that lets the meat soften more. If you are making it for a weekend dinner, I suggest making it on Sunday morning and letting it cook and sit for several hours.

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