Stews are comforting, hearty, and flavorful, and a great option when you want to pack a lot of fresh, seasonal vegetables into one meal. Stews are also perfect for easy entertaining. Bubble up a big pot, and serve alongside a fresh salad and crusty bread.
But before we get started on the technique, let’s answer this question: Soup vs. stew: What’s the difference? Many people use these terms interchangeably. But stews are generally simmered for a generous amount of time, allowing the ingredients, specifically, tougher cuts of meat, to tenderize. The liquid has time to thicken and reduce, intensifying the flavor of the dish. This is unlike soup, which usually consists of a thin, plentiful broth, and can be made in as little as 20 minutes.
You can make stew from all sorts of ingredients, from vegetables to chicken to lentils, but many folks expect to see red meat in their stew. Grocery stores even offer prepared beef and bison “stew meats,” so you don’t have to worry about trimming them yourself.
Make your stew stand out by dialing up the flavor profile—this trick lies in the juice. You can stew your meat in water, but better yet, consider some upgraded options, such as stock, beer, or wine. Fresh herbs add a vibrant, earthy quality, and a little citrus like a squeeze of lemon or orange can brighten the flavor. Use a recipe as your baseline, or test your sense of adventure and create your own recipe.
Stew recipes can fill an entire cookbook, but I’ll outline some of the basics for preparing a warming, delicious pot of beef stew. Ready to dig in?
- Choose your meat. Select good-quality stew meat; that is, tough and lean cuts. Choose from the following list or talk to your butcher for more information and guidance: Chuck, Chuck Shoulder, Chuck Roast, Chuck Eye Roast, Top Chuck Bottom Round Roast, Bottom Eye Roast, Rump Roast, Eye Round Roast, Top Round, Round Tip Roast, English Roast, Pot Roast.
- Sear it well. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a stockpot. Season the beef with salt and pepper and pat with flour. Sear the meat in batches for about 6 to 8 minutes per batch. Remove the beef and set aside.
- Add aromatics. Wipe out the pot, and coat bottom with oil. Sauté roughly chopped onions, garlic, and any other aromatics you like.
- Jack up the flavor. Add tomato paste (if desired) and fresh herbs, and pour in your liquid(s). Return the beef to the pot and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer on the stove or in the oven for 1½ to 2 hours.
- Bring in the veggies. Remove the lid and carefully toss in some roughly chopped vegetables; hearty choices include potatoes and carrots. Continue to cook, covered, until the meat and veggies are tender, 30 to 40 minutes.
- Take a taste. Let cool slightly, and then taste. Season with salt, pepper, and fresh herbs to your liking. If desired, add a splash of red wine vinegar.