Old-fashioned beef stew
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FoodWarm and comforting

Old-fashioned beef stew

"Simple foods can be the most luxurious"

Beef stew (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Beef stew (Photo by Jessica Grann)

When the weather turns cold and blustery, I appreciate a warm and comforting homemade meal, and a nice bowl of beef stew fits the bill.

My recipe uses simple ingredients. The more I get into homestyle cooking, the more I realize that simple foods can be the most luxurious — and meat and potatoes are always pleasing to a crowd.

The key to an amazing stew is technique and lots of time. You can’t just throw everything in the pot at once and expect a delicious result. Browning the meat and onions is the most time-consuming part of the process — after that, it’s just letting the pot simmer and checking it occasionally for taste.

I’m also sharing tips on how to fix a stew that is too thin or thick, and how to improve flavor if the broth tastes weak. You can apply these tips to any stew or soup.

This recipe fits into the “Sunday dinner” category because it needs to simmer for a few hours, and most of us are not able to start this kind of meal after work.

This recipe makes several servings, but leftovers always fly from my fridge This also freezes well, so if you have any extra, freeze it to use when you need a homemade meal and don’t have the time or energy to cook.

Ingredients:
Serves 8

2-3 pounds chuck roast or stew meat
4-5 cups of onions, sliced into chunks
1 cup all-purpose flour
Coarse kosher salt
Black pepper, freshly ground if possible
3 tablespoons cooking oil for browning the meat
10-12 cups of water, divided
4-6 potatoes, peeled and sliced into large chunks
3 large carrots, peeled and sliced
Half a pound of frozen peas
Beef consommé cubes or powder, if needed for flavor

About the meat:
I prefer buying a whole chuck roast and cutting it into cubes myself. The meat usually has a melt-in-your-mouth texture after hours on the stove and there is also a little more fat on a chuck roast. If your roast has a bone attached, it’s even better because that will improve the flavor of your broth. If you typically buy what is labeled “stew meat,” and are happy with the results, go ahead and use that.

Beef stew, step by step (Photo by Jessica Grann)

Directions:
If using stew meat, pat it with paper towels first, which will help the flour adhere better to the meat. If using a roast, trim any tough pieces; if there is a bone, cut it away, then cut the meat into cubes, about 2 inches in length. Pat the cubes dry with a paper towel. Place the cubed pieces on the cutting board, sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper, and let it sit for about 10 minutes.

Place 1 cup of flour in a plate or bowl and dredge the meat cubes in the flour, covering both sides. There will be a lot of flour left to reserve for later use.

Cooking stews in a Dutch oven yields the best result, but you can use a large stainless soup pot if you don’t have a Dutch oven, being mindful of the heat level so that the bottom doesn’t scorch.

Place the pot on the stove burner and turn the heat to medium.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of oil to the pot and allow it to warm for a few minutes, then add the stew meat and brown on each side for 3-4 minutes. You will probably need to do this in 2-3 batches. After each batch, scoop the browned meat into a separate dish to add in later. The flour absorbs the oil so you may need to add a little more oil with every batch. Some of the flour will stick to the bottom of the pot and this will help to make the base for the broth. If the flour on the bottom of the pot gets too dark, reduce the heat a little.

After all the meat is browned, add the onion to the pot and stir it well so that it gets coated in any leftover oil.

Cook the onion for about 10 minutes over medium-low heat, just enough for the onion to start to soften and release flavor.

After 10 minutes, add ½ cup of flour to the onions, stirring as well as possible, and cook it for about 2 minutes.

Stir about 6 cups of water into the pot and allow it to come to a soft boil. If you have a bone from the meat, add it to the pot now.

Use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pot so that the flour and flavor get mixed in well.

Add the meat chunks to the pot. If the liquid does not cover the meat, add more water, one cup at a time until the meat is covered with water, then bring the stew to a soft boil again. Cover with a tight lid and reduce the heat to simmer.

Simmer for about an hour, then check it for flavor. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Be mindful of the heat because the flour will burn and stick to the bottom of the pot if it’s too hot.

Stir the stew well and add the potatoes and carrots. Add as much water as needed to just cover the vegetables, and allow the stew to come again to a simmer before covering with a lid. Simmer covered for an additional 1½ to 2 hours — the longer the better. Keep the flame low and slow, and stir it a few times per hour.

After the suggested cooking time, check the flavor again and add more salt or pepper if needed. If the broth tastes weak, consommé will save the day. Add 1 tablespoon of consommé powder or 1 cube to taste, allow it to cook for 20 minutes and retaste. If it needs more flavor, add one more portion of consommé.

If the soup seems watery, you can thicken it. I usually make this stew with a thinner consistency, which you can see from the photo. Some people prefer it thicker, with the base more like a potato soup. The only difference is the amount of flour used. I don’t add too much flour in the beginning because the potatoes release quite a bit of starch when cooking. Also, different potatoes can also affect the consistency of the soup because some are starchier than others. To thicken the stew, add 2 tablespoons of flour to ½ cup of cold water and stir it as well as possible with a fork before adding it to the pot. Turn the heat up to medium until the pot is bubbling, then reduce and simmer covered for an additional 20 minutes to get the base to thicken.

If your soup is too thick, add ½ cup of water at a time until it’s at the desired taste and consistency.

When you’re happy with the consistency, add ½ bag (about a half-pound) of frozen peas, cover the pot and turn the heat off.

Allow the pot to sit for 10 minutes before serving so that the peas cook completely in the stew. Adding the peas last keeps them bright green and firm and it looks much better in your bowl. Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC

Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.

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