Beef Stew – the ultimate chilly weather comfort food

beef stewIs there anything more comforting on a chilly day than a nice bowl of beef stew? Big chunks of tender beef, potatoes and carrots, with a thick, hearty broth that sticks to your ribs.

It’s taken me a while to get the flavor just right. But I think I might have nailed it this last time. I am going to tell you right off the bat, there are no exact measurements! I’m sorry, it’s just a fact. There are many of my recipes that I don’t have exact measurements for, family favorites that I just toss together without thinking about it. It drives my kids nuts, at least my daughters. They need specific instructions, they need it written down perfectly so they can replicate it. Fact of the matter is, most of my stuff never tastes the same two times in a row. This beef stew is no different.

I will do my best to give you some measurements, but really, cooking is all about making it according to your tastes. Don’t like carrots? Add parsnips instead. Don’t like big chunks? Cut smaller chunks. Don’t like thyme? Add parsley. A recipe should be a guideline. Fiddle with the recipe, change it around to suit your tastes. Don’t be afraid to substitute something or add extra ingredients. The recipe police aren’t going to come and arrest you for changing the recipe around a bit.

Honestly, it took me a while to get to this point. Following recipes helped me understand putting ingredients together. I still use recipes, but now I can look at it and say “oh, this would be good with this extra herb or spice, add this veggie, substitute the beef with chicken, etc”.

So here is a “guideline” for my Beef Stew.

Beef Stew

1 lb beef stew meat, cut into 1/2″ chunks
1 Tbls oil
2 onions, diced, divided
4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled, leave whole
4-5 medium potatoes, cut into 1/2″ chunks
4 medium carrots, cut into 1/4″ chunks
3 stalks celery, cut into 1/4″ chunks
1 cup red wine
2-4 cups beef stock, depends on how much it cooks off
1 large or 2 small bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour

Heat oil in 8 quart stock pot over medium-high heat. It’s best to use stainless steel, it browns the meat really well and works better when deglazing the pan. You get a nice dark, flavorful base for the stew. If you don’t have a stainless stock pot, use a stainless saute pan and transfer meat to the stock pot when it’s time to simmer the stew.

Add the beef and sprinkle a little bit of salt and pepper over the beef. Brown for a couple of minutes and then add 1/2 of the chopped onion, celery and the garlic.

Let cook until beef is browned and onions have softened up a bit, stirring occasionally being careful not to burn the beef. Add red wine to pan to deglaze. Stir and cook unil wine has cooked down by half. Add about 2-3 cups of the beef stock, thyme, and bay leaves. If browning the beef in a separate pan, this is where you move the beef mixture to your stock pot.

Cover the pot and simmer over medium-low heat for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours. Add carrots and onions. Add more beef stock as necessary. You can also kick up the heat to medium, the beef should be good and tender by this time.

Cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and then add the potatoes. Cook for another 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add more seasonings to taste (thyme, salt and pepper). Remove bay leaves.

Stir 1/4 cup flour with enough water to make a thin paste. About 1/3 to 1/2 cup water. Whisk flour and water mixture until smooth, make sure there are no lumps. I use a Tupperware shaker.

Slowly add flour mixture (called a slurry) to beef stew, stirring constantly. Add about half and then a little more at a time, cooking and stirring between addtions until it’s the desired consistency.

We like a nice thick, chunky stew so I pretty much use the whole thing. I also try to make sure there isn’t a lot of liquid already for the stew. We’re not making soup, but stew.

There are a couple of other ways to thicken the stew. Use cornstarch and water for a gluten free thickener. Or melt some butter in a pan and add flour. Cook for a minute or so and then add to the stew.