Beef stew is one of the easiest things to make. Brown meat cubes, add veggies and liquid and let it cook slowly. Plan on a couple of hours of cooking time. Stew can be a one-pot meal, with potatoes in it, or served on a bed of rice, noodles or mashed potatoes.
I like round or eye of round steaks for stewing beef. They have very little fat and you can easily slice or cube them. You can, of course, buy stewing beef. I find it’s more work because I remove the fat and cut the pieces smaller. However, any cheap cut of beef works, a blade roast or steak for example. The long cooking time makes the meat tender.
Stew Process, in short
- Brown meat cubes
- Add liquid
- Add barley, dense vegetables and dried herbs
- Let cook 30-40 mins, add delicate vegetables
- Cook an hour, add wine and fresh herbs
- Let cook 30-40 mins. (Cook stew ‘bed’ if needed)
Stew Process, long version
Put a bit of oil in a deep wide pot, let it heat up, and add chopped onions and garlic. When they have started softening, put the meat cubes in. Stir to get them browned on all sides. (If it’s a teflon pan, you don’t need oil.)
Browning the meat
A) Put it in the pan as is or (b) coat it in seasoned flour first. If you do (b) put maybe 1/4 cup flour on a plate or in a plastic bag. Mix a bit of salt and pepper in. Put the meat pieces in the flour and stir around or shake to completely coat them. Then put the coated meat in the heated oil in your pot. Stir to ensure all sides are browned.
Add liquid, barley, dense vegetables
Start with a cup or two. Any vegetable or beef stock is best, but water will do. The cooking veggies and beef will make their own stock. But using stock adds to the flavour of your sauce.
Stir a handful of barley into the liquid. It needs a long time to fully cook. Barley thickens stew wonderfully. I don’t add barley if I’m putting the stew on top of a starch. It makes it too dense.
Add potatoes (cut up if large or whole if very small) and chopped carrots. They take the longest to cook. Add any other dense vegetable, like brussels sprouts, now as well.
If you want a tomato-ey stew, add a can of whole or diced tomatoes.
Dried herbs, seasonings
Put in 1 or 2 bay leaves. Add dried herbs like basil or oregano as well. If you’re using fresh herbs, leave them until the final half hour of cooking. Add salt and pepper, a few shakes of Worcestershire Sauce and a dollop of ketchup. Simmer for 30-40 mins.
Add soft vegetables
By now, the potatoes and carrots should be softening. Time to add your other coarsely chopped vegetables. Celery, green and/or red pepper, broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini – whatever you fancy. If you’re using fresh tomatoes, either cherry or chopped, add them too. I add these vegetables later because they are softer and more delicate. You don’t want to cook them to mush.
Now just let it cook for maybe an hour. Add more liquid if it needs it or if you want a thinner sauce.
Red wine, fresh herbs
This is the time to add red wine, both as a flavour agent and a source of liquid. Also add fresh herbs.
If the sauce is too thin, mix up a couple teaspoons of flour in a tablespoon or so of cold water. Stir well to remove lumps and mix slowly in the stew. Or shake in some blending flour, stirring to avoid lumps.
Let it cook another 30 minutes, and it should be done. You’ll see a thin film on the top, almost like a glaze.
Stew more or less cooks itself and it’s remarkably versatile. You can add whatever you have in the way of vegetables. Or if you like meaty stew, you can leave all vegetables out. I’d still put in onions and garlic, though. You can make chicken stew instead of beef, or leave out the meat entirely and make it vegetarian or vegan. Just change the type of stock you use.