Before I tell you how my beef stew experiment came out, a few words about my approach to the dish. As I noted yesterday, my stew is very plain: beef, potatoes, that’s about it.
Occasionally, I’ll get fancy and use another starch besides potatoes: chayote (what we called pipinellas in my Portuguese household), chunks of squash or pumpkin (again, a Portuguese thing) or even sweet potato. Peas, particularly fresh peas, which I could get when I lived in Washington state, are nice if added at the last minute. But never, never, never carrot or celery or bell pepper or handfuls of herbs or spices.
For me, in beef stew, these ingredients are just wrong. Carrots taste bitter, not sweet as I prefer them (they’re also just a cheap filler in most stews, cut too large and often mushy). Celery gets slimy. Bell pepper, herbs and spices take over from the dish’s central ingredient, beef.
Also important: Sweat the small stuff. Cut the beef stew meat into small, even chunks, about 1 1/4 inch square. Ditto the potatoes or other starches. Don’t use too much fat; just a couple of teaspoons. To fry rather than braise, use a large, heavy, open pot, such as a Dutch oven, not a steep-sided soup pot. (Steep sides trap moisture; a wide open pot allows moisture to cook off.) Don’t crowd the meat when frying; work in batches and tend it carefully to prevent burning. Blend the beurre manie in a small bowl with a fork (2 tablespoons softened butter, 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour). To avoid lumps, whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot beef stock into the bowl, then add it to the stew.
Don’t be fooled by muddle-headed recipe writers who suggest that making stock is just a matter of throwing leftover bits of this and that into a pot of water. A stock will taste of its ingredients — do you really want to eat potato peels or woody carrot ends? (This is not to say such ingredients can’t be used, but they must be balanced by fresh and sweet foods and, if you’re not a vegetarian, meaty bones.) When I can find soup bones — it’s getting harder to do, as with any bone-in meat these days — I roast them at 450 degrees until they’re well browned and the fat and marrow begin to melt. I place these in a soup pot with leeks, a handful of parsley, half an onion, perhaps a wedge of lemon, chopped tomatoes if I have some that are about to go over. But not too much of anything so that the primary flavor, in the end, is fragrant, light beef broth.
And so, did frying the beef plain instead of dredging it work? Yes, it did. At first, I was worried because the meat released a lot of juices as it cooked and I thought it might become stringy and tough, but long, slow cooking tenderized it and the final result was as beefy as even I could wish. One advantage of not dredging was that I didn’t have to worry about the flour burning. Flour-dredged meats quickly absorb the fat in which they’re cooked, and can begin to burn in the blink of an eye. I actually ended up using less fat with the uncoated beef; fried it in three batches (it was about 2 pounds) with just a tablespoon of fat total (okay, I know that’s not exactly light but it’s not bad for a stew that could serve 4-6).
One woman’s beef stew is not another’s! Lots of carrots and no peas for me, please!
When we moved many years ago, a friend who had cooked for her family friend offered to cook beef stew for the bunch of men who helped load and unload all of our things. Her beef stew was SO different from mine: the meat was cut in big pieces, and so were the vegetables, and she used short ribs.
Different but good!
Hark! Is that a dumpling I see at the top of the plate? Oh my, that just makes this PA
Dutchman’s mouth water! I could sing the praises of dumplings all day long! LOL Thanks, Wanda.
Carrots! I guess we finally found our point of difference. I loathe them unless they’re roasted with butter, brown sugar or honey. And I love peas! But the principle of my beef stew remains: keep it beefy! I have a busy week, lots of deadlines. Hope you have a great week. I really appreciate your friendship and support.
A well-made dumpling is thing of deliciousness and a joy forever.
its wonderful to hear how you did this beef stew… I have had problems with adequately browning dredged meat while making stew… I will try it without like you did and see how it works. I’ve never used the beurre manie either. Thanks for that tip. (I’ve seen it on some cooking shows but never tried it myself.. yet). Gotta have potatoes, love the peas… and I usually gotta add carrots (sorry), and I’m afraid I’m crazy about adding lightly caramelized onions and a little garlic too. I’m addicted to those two flavors. What I find interesting is how people in diff. areas eat stew…whether straight up in a bowl with a chunk of sourdough bread on the side (how I was raised to eat it), served in a bread bowl, or on a plate poured over egg noodles (like I ate once in Germany in the Rhine region) or served with 2 scoops rice, like I had in a plate lunch on Maui years ago. I guess its whatever you’re used to. Viva la differance!?