Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Beef Stew Secrets

Recently I came across some tips for perfect beef stew. Have you ever spent the day cooking a beef stew, either on the stove or in a crockpot, only to find that the meat is tough? That's very disappointing, I know.  I've had that happen a lot. Or maybe the stew part is too thick or too runny?  Or maybe that the beef lacks in flavor?  I've had all of those mistakes, but I've found the cure for all of those problems.

First off, the only meat to use here is a chuck roast.  Sure, you can try fancier cuts of meat, but they just don't break down the same way as a chuck roast.  You don't want dry, tough meat in this comfort food.  Trust me on this one.  I've tried all kinds of cuts of meat and failed miserably.

Next, the most important way to add flavor to your stew is by searing the meat first and then deglazing the pan with wine. Searing the meat gives it more flavor, and deglazing the pan gets up all the little good bits left in the pot.  But be sure to sear in batches or you won't get that caramelization since the heat of the pan will decrease too much if you put too much in.

Lastly, there's no need to make a roux or add flour to the stew.  By coating the meat with cornstarch before searing it, it helps get the right thickness.  Also, turning the heat up during the last hour of cooking and stirring frequently gets the starch out of the potatoes more and helps thicken up the stew too.  I made this Crockpot Beef Stew last night, and it was the best I've ever had.  Enjoy!

3 lb chuck roast, cubed
1/4 C cornstarch
1/2 C red wine
Salt & pepper
2 potatoes, cubed
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 C baby carrots
1 1/2 C fresh green beans
1 stalk celery, sliced
3 bay leaves
1 T Worcestershire sauce
2 1/2 C beef stock
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, left whole
2 T tomato paste

NOTES:  I prepped all of the ingredients and seared the meat the night before since I leave for work early.  The next morning, I just threw it all in and let it go.  I turned the crockpot on at 7:30 and let it go until about 6:30 at night, but it will probably cook in about 8-9 hours.  Since crockpots are sealed and don't allow any escape of liquid or evaporation, the 2 1/2 C beef stock is plenty, trust me.  Don't be worried that the stock doesn't fill up the pot or cover anything.  The meat will give off enough juice for this.  Don't salt the meat until it goes into the pan to sear.  Salting it early will draw out the moisture and make the meat dry.

First off, get a pan, preferably cast iron, screaming hot.  Mix the beef with the cornstarch.  When the pan is really really hot, drizzle in some olive oil.  Sear the meat in batches (mine took three batches) for several minutes on most sides to really brown the meat.  Don't turn it until it's browned.  Also, season the meat generously with salt and pepper only when it's in the pan.  Add in more olive oil if necessary between batches.

When all of the meat is seared, pour the red wine into the pan and whisk, scraping up any browned bits left behind. Remove the pan from the heat.  Put all of the ingredients (including whatever red wine is left in the pan) into a crockpot and turn it on low.  You can add salt and pepper in as well, if desired.  Cook the stew for about 8-9 hours. During the last hour, find the bay leaves and thyme springs and remove them.  Turn the crockpot up to high and stir frequently to break up the potatoes a bit and thicken the stew.  Serve the stew with a nice hunk of cornbread.

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