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When it came time for my first big cooking test in culinary school, everyone in my class wanted to get beef stew, because it’s really easy to prepare and hard to screw up (mess up). The only key is to build flavors as you go. Here’s how:
Take a 3 pound boneless chuck roast, trim off any fat or sinew, and cut the meat into 1 to 1 ½ inch chunks. Chuck is found between the neck and shoulder blades of the animal. And because the cow uses this muscle to get around, it tends to be a little bit tough, so it benefits from moist heat cooking to become tender.
Once you’ve cut the meat, toss it in ¼ cup of flour seasoned with 2 teaspoons of salt and a tsp of pepper. Then grab a dutch oven or a large pot with a heavy bottom. Add 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil, and heat it over medium until the oil is shimmering.
Working in batches, shake off any excess flour on the cubes of beef and add them to the pot in a single layer. Cook the beef, flipping the pieces occasionally until they are browned all over, about 4 to 5 minutes. Make sure not to crowd the beef in the pot, or else it will steam instead of brown. And this is one of the keys to building rich flavor. You should be able to see the bottom of the pot in between the pieces of beef. Transfer the browned beef to a plate and set it aside.
Then add one diced onion to the pot, season it with salt and pepper, and cook it until it has softened and the pieces are just starting to turn brown. This should take about five minutes. Then stir in two tablespoons of tomato paste, and cook until the raw tomato flavor has mellowed, about two minutes more. Then sprinkle in one tablespoon of flour and cook for about one minute, just to get out the raw flour taste. This last little bit of flour will help thicken the liquid in the pot into a really nice sauce.
By this time, you should have a thick crust forming on the bottom of your pot, and that’s what makes a really great stew. To lift all of that flavor off the bottom of the pot and into your sauce, you need to deglaze it with some kind of liquid. My weapon of choice is red wine, but you can certainly use stock if you want to avoid alcohol. Add one cup and as it begins to boil scrape up all those flavorful bits with your spoon. Cook the wine until it begins to thicken, about 3 minutes.
Then return the meat to the pot with any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Add four cups of beef broth, and tuck two bay leaves and four thyme sprigs into the liquid. Crank the heat up to high to get the liquid boiling, turn it down to low, and let it simmer for about an hour. Make sure to do this uncovered, so the liquid has a chance to reduce and concentrate all those great flavors. When the hour is up, cut three carrots, three celery stocks and four yukon potatoes into large dice, and add them to the pot.
Now you can put a lid on and let the stew simmer for another hour. This keeps the stew from drying out and creates that moist heat environment, so the chuck roast becomes super tender.
Just before you are ready to serve, stir in one cup of frozen peas and cook them until they are warmed through. And don’t forget to take out the bay leaves and thyme stems.
This beef stew is packed with flavorful vegetables and fork tender pieces of beef. The wine and tomato paste create a really rich sauce that’s great served over egg noodles, rice, or just sopped up with a big hunk of crusty bread.
And that’s the easiest way to make beef stew.