Cooking School

How to make the best beef stew

Sweet and Sour Beef Stew with Prunes and Apricots</br>Photography by Jeff Coulson Image by: Sweet and Sour Beef Stew with Prunes and Apricots</br>Photography by Jeff Coulson Author: Canadian Living

Cooking School

How to make the best beef stew

It's no wonder that beef stew contiues to be the favourite it's been in Canadian homes for generations. When it comes to comfort food, what other dish can you think of with all these features?
  • It's made in one pot
  • Wonderfully nutritious
  • Can be made-ahead and refrigerated (or frozen)
  • Versatile enough to adapt to a host of add-ins you may have on-hand
  • Can be scaled up for big batch entertaining, or down for a cozy dinner for two (though you’d be crazy not to want leftovers)
  • Easy on the wallet
  • Hearty and warming on a cold winter’s night, but could fit into most any season or meal occasion (okay, maybe not breakfast!)
  • Comforting and nostalgia-inducing
  • Can be kept casual for ladling into bowls and served with crusty bread for when the gang drops by, or made more elegant for your next soirée with the addition of a splash of red wine, chopped fresh herbs and served over rice pilaf
  • Is the perfect dish to be made in your slow cooker
But what makes for a good beef stew? Here are some tips and techniques to help make yours the best on the block.

What is a beef stew?
In its most basic form, beef stew is a savoury one-pot dish, which consists of three main elements: beef (1) and vegetables (2), cooked slowly in a liquid (3). Let’s take a look at each of these in a bit more detail.

1) Cuts of beef for best beef stew
Look for:
  • outside round beef
  • oven roast
  • cross rib
  • brisket
  • blade
  • or any other cut that has the words pot roast, simmering or stew, such as lean boneless stewing beef.
Buying a large piece of meat and cutting your own cubes ensures all will be cut to the same size and will cook in the same amount of time. For convenience though, picking up a kilo or so of beef stewing cubes is fine in a pinch.

Page 1 of 3 - Why is browning your meat in the pan essential to make stew? Find out on page 2.
Another choice is to use beef simmering short ribs. The bones will slip away from the meat and can be removed before serving. Just be sure to scrape any marrow that may still be lurking inside the bones back into the stew, as marrow will provide additional flavour and body to your stew.

Why brown your meat
Browning or searing meat is the key to creating rich colour to your sauce and for unlocking the meat’s savoury flavours. A chemical reaction caused by the browning process, known as the Maillard reaction, causes the naturally occurring sugars and amino acids in meat to combine and react when heat is introduced.

What you need to know here is that when you are ready to brown your meat, start with a preheated pan or pot and don’t overcrowd it (which is why most recipes will indicate to brown in batches), and once the meat is browning, don’t move it.

When a crust has formed, the meat will “release,” or let go of the cooking surface. If you try to turn or move it before it’s ready, the meat will tear.

2) Tips for tasty beef stew vegetables
Aromatic vegetables such as carrots, onions and celery are ideal for stews, as their flavours will intermingle with and enhance the flavour of the sauce.

Potatoes are a welcome addition, not only for adding rib-sticking sustenance, but also for providing additional thickening qualities to your stew.

A few other stew-errific veggies include:
  • turnips or rutabaga
  • parsnips
  • whole cloves of garlic
  • sweet peppers
  • mushrooms
Just be sure to keep all vegetables in good-size chunks so they can withstand the extended simmering time. Alternatively, add the vegetables after the meat has been simmering for a while.

Page 2 of 3 - Discover the saucy secrets to beef stew on page 3.
3) Beef stew sauce secrets
The main liquid used in beef stew is often beef or veal stock or broth, while vegetable stock or chicken stock would also be good choices for helping to build a great sauce.

Canned tomatoes or tomato juice are often included, and the addition of tomato paste will provide additional body and a bit of thickness to your sauce. Other liquid options include beer, cider, or red or white wine.

Flour power
While optional, lightly coating beef cubes with flour before searing will increase the amount of browning on the meat, and also helps to thicken and add body to your sauce. If sauce still needs thickening, whisk a couple spoonfuls of flour or cornstarch into cold water and slowly drizzle into stew, allowing it to come to boil to test for consistency. If using flour, be sure to let stew simmer for a while longer, as it takes some time to ‘cook out’ the floury flavour.

Storage and freezing

This is one dish you’ll want to have leftovers of. Let cooked stew cool for 30 minutes, stirring often. Transfer to smaller, airtight containers and refrigerate until cold. Cover and refrigerate for up to three days, or freeze for up to a month. Thaw before reheating.

Best recipe bets
Find your favourite beef stew recipe in our Canadian Living beef stew collection, or try these other Tested Till Perfect recipes below:

Page 3 of 3 - Learn what makes a great stew and the perfect cuts of meat for this comfort dish on page 1.
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How to make the best beef stew

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