The secrets that make beef stew savory, elegant and delicious are disclosed here! Early in the day:
(It helps to start or plan dinner in the morning before you begin work)
A big soup pot or a crock pot
Beef stew meat or
Roast – you can use a pot roast or any kind that is on sale. I prefer a chuck roast as they are more flavorful. If the piece of meat has a bone, that’s fine! (It's usually less expensive to use a roast. You are paying for the butcher to cut the roast into stew meat and as you'll see later in the recipe, that's not needed).
2-4 T olive oil
4 T flour
1 onion, chopped
3- 5 carrots, peeled and sliced on a diagonal
3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced. (more potatoes if you have a surprise, bigger crowd)
Beef stock or water
Salt, pepper, fresh dill
1 T tomato paste
1 T apple cider (or you can use cognac or wine)
Heat the olive oil on medium high in a big soup pot or if you are using a crock pot, in a frying pan. Pat the meat dry and brown it on both sides, keeping the heat fairly high.
Secret # 1: Browning meat requires patience and is a step that cannot be skipped!
When the meat has browned, remove it and set it aside in a bowl. Brown the chopped onion, but don’t burn it.
Add the flour and mix it well into the oil remaining in the pan. Cook this flour, stirring constantly. If it is too thick, add a bit more olive oil.
Secret #2: While stirring, scrape up the bits of brown flavor from the meat and the onion that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add salt and pepper.
Add 1 T of tomato paste to this mixture and cook it also. This adds complexity to the flavor of the stew.
When the flour is bubbly and fragrant and brown, slowly pour in beef stock, chicken stock, or if you have neither, water. Stir this until it is a smooth, thick gravy. Return the meat to this gravy. Add 1 T apple cider, salt and pepper to taste and ½ teaspoon fresh dill cut as small as you can get it. The dill adds a freshness and spark.
At this point, you may transfer the stew to your crock pot. Cover and simmer for 5-8 hours. If you are using a crock pot, start it on high and set it down to low after about an hour or before you leave the house.
Choose fresh ingredients if possible
When you return from work, the house will be filled with the inviting savory scent of the stew!
You know that the stew is done because the meat will be so tender that it can be cut into smaller pieces using a spoon. Now it is time to finish it and the finishing steps are important.
Bring a quart of water to a boil. Into this add the potatoes and cook them until they are tender. Drain the potatoes, saving the hot water. Cook the carrots until they are bright orange and just fork tender. Not too much. Set these aside. Save the water in case the stew is too thick, you can use this nutrient rich water to thin it. I usually cook the root vegetables while I am finishing the stew according to directions belo
Using a slotted spoon, remove all the meat from the stew pot and set the meat aside to cool a little.
Secret # 3: Smooth and refine the gravy
There are 3 ways to do this:
For all methods: first, using a spoon, skim off the fat that has gathered at the top of the stew and discard, then remove any visible pieces of fat or bone from the stew gravy.
1. Use an immersion blender by inserting it into the gravy and blending in several spots. This breaks up the pieces of onion etc. and results in a thicker, slightly lighter colored gravy.
2. Use a standard blender to make the gravy one smooth consistency. After removing the meat, the bones and small pieces of fat, spoon the gravy into the blender. Let it cool for a minute. When you blend it, make sure the top is open a bit in a direction away from you to allow steam to escape. Blend to smooth.
3. If you own neither an immersion blender or a standard blender, put a big bowl beneath a wire sieve and pour the gravy through this. Mash the bits of onion through the sieve with a wooden spoon or discard them.
Secret # 4 Clean the meat
Whether you used stew meat or a roast, the meat needs refining at this point. Using a knife, fork and cutting board, cut the meat into bite-sized pieces and while doing so scrape away the grizzle, fat and membrane that is in the meat.
This is an important step that should not be skipped. It saves you and your guests from spitting unchewable bits of grizzle into their napkins and keeps your kids from gagging on the same. I only know this from watching my own children struggle at the table.
Return the meat to the crock pot, add the cooked, drained carrots and the cooked, drained potatoes. I cook these vegetables separately because I found that if I cook the carrots all day with the meat, the stew is very sweet and the carrots are mush. One of my children cannot swallow mush. Potatoes cook in unpredictable ways in a crock pot. Typically, while I am cleaning the meat and finishing the gravy, I cook the root vegetables. Doing it this way gives the stew a bright look and the vegetables retain their flavor.
Reheat and correct the seasonings. Maybe add a little chili powder or red pepper? In the last five minutes before serving, add cut green beans or shelled edamame for bright green color.
Serve in bowls, or over pasta or rice and with crusty bread.