There is nothing like sub zero weather to make you crave a warm, nourishing soup or stew.
I just love soups and stews of all sorts. They typically are filling, use inexpensive ingredients and can be scaled up or down easily to feed just a few or a whole crowd. One of my goals on my weekly meal plan is to include a soup of some sort each week–so obviously it’s on the menu frequently!
Many of the soups I cook are the “without a recipe” kind–a broth, some veggies, whatever meat I have left. Viola–soup. That’s pretty much what farm wives and cooks have been doing for hundreds of years. But I do have some particular recipes I either use verbatim or head back to for basic inspiration over and over again. Things like Cream of Chicken Soup, Potato Sausage Soup, Chicken Chili Blanco, Wanna Be Wendy’s Chili, and Two Can Stew. When Walmart asked me to share a filling soup or stew recipe on their behalf I realized that I had never actually given you my recipe for beef stew!
There are a couple of keys to making a good beef stew. Honestly, the first should be to use a good beef stock. At Walmart you can pick up those square cartons of Swanson’s Beef Broth and such–I’ve now had TWO professional chefs at different events tell me that Swansons is what they use when they don’t have homemade stock on hand. I don’t usually keep broth of any type on hand so I have to make do with the good old water & bullion cube method. It’s a pale second but still produces a nice soup or stew (you do have to remember that bullion in salty–so TASTE before you add any other salt called for in a recipe)
The second key point is to brown your beef in small batches. You see when you cook your beef over a medium high heat with a little olive oil, you get a nice caramelized browning that really increases the flavor. If you put too much beef in the pot at once, then the juices all leak out and you wind up sort of steaming the meat instead of browning it. Just trust me–do smaller batches and take the extra time. And don’t worry about all that dark brown stuff left on the pot, that’s another secret. You scrape that all up when you add your water/stock to give extra depth and flavor to your broth!
The next tip is the bay leaf. Seriously–don’t skip this. I couldn’t tell you exactly what bay tastes like–but you can tell when it’s missing. I remember the first time I made spaghetti sauce to can–the recipe called for bay leaf and I thought that was odd as it’s not an ingredient I typically use in Italian food–but when I tasted the sauce before and after adding it, well, it just added that little bit that was missing.
Oh, and remember–you aren’t supposed to eat the bay leaf. You leave it whole and then pick it out before serving.
Of course the wine and beer in the stew are an important addition as well. Alcohol helps to spread flavor–so it gives a boost to whatever you add. Mixing the dry red wine and the beer (I just use whatever we have in the fridge) again adds to the complexity of the stew. Mmmm.
All the rest of the vegetables included are pretty basic and easily found fresh at your local Walmart. Carrots. Potatoes. Onion.
I figured that I might as well throw in a bonus kitchen tip while I’m talking about making this dish. This is probably old news to a few of you–but did you know that if you put your potatoes into cold water after you peel them it keeps them from turning that nasty brown? I like to peel them and pop them into a bowl full of water, but to wait on dicing them until right before I add them.
Here’s the full recipe:
- 1 Lb Stew Meat
- olive oil
- 1 head garlic--peeled & chopped
- 6 C water and 6 beef bullion cubes OR 6 C beef stock
- 1 C beer
- 1 C dry red wine
- 3 oz tomato paste (half a small can)
- 1 TBS Honey
- 2 tsp thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 C potatoes--peeled and cubed
- 3 C carrots--peeled and chunked
- 1 onion, chopped
- salt & pepper
- Brown beef in olive oil in a large heavy pot. Don't overcrowd.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and bring briefly to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook 2-3 hours with the lid on. Beef and vegetables should all be tender.
- Stew improves when leftovers are stored overnight in the fridge!
There are as many ways to make stew as there are cooks–what are your favorite additions?