Comforting Beef Stew

Yum

There is something so comforting about a thick, hearty stew bubbling away on the back of the stove on a cold day.  You can break out a loaf of crusty bread for dipping, feeling warm all the way to your very soul. Stew is comfort.  It is home. It is love.  And nothing says “Come in from the cold” like classic beef stew loaded with vegetables, savory gravy, and fall-apart-tender chunks of rich beef.

What are we waiting for?  Let’s do this!

Comforting Beef Stew

Ingredients:

1-2 lb. beef chuck roast

3 tbsp. olive oil

SPOG (equal mixture of salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder)

1 large onion, finely chopped

5-6 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1/4 cup cooking sherry or Guinness dark beer

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 potato, peeled and chopped

2 cups beef stock

1 (8 oz.) small can tomato sauce

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

2 bay leaves (remove these before serving)

1/3 cup cornstarch mixed with enough water to make a milky fluid

1 cup frozen green peas

Directions:

Cut beef into 1 inch chunks and sprinkle liberally with SPOG.  Without crowding the pan, sear the meat in olive oil on medium high heat in a cast iron dutch oven, turning to make sure that each side is caramelized and brown (meat will not be cooked completely through– just browned on the outside).  Remove meat pieces to a paper towel lined plate in batches as you cook the rest.  When all the meat is seared, add in cooking sherry and scrape browned bits from bottom of the pan.  Pour chopped onion and minced garlic into the pan drippings, stirring well and sauteing just until translucent and fragrant.  Add chopped celery, carrot, potato, and 1 cup of beef stock and cook until vegetables are just starting to soften.  Turn heat to low and add in remaining beef stock, tomato sauce, thyme, bay leaves, and drained meat.  Stir well and cover.  Simmer on low heat for 3 hours, or until meat and vegetables are tender, being careful that heat is low enough to prevent sticking.  Remove bay leaves and stir in cornstarch slurry, turning off heat as soon as stew thickens (about 1 minute). Stir in frozen peas and serve.

Now, in pictures! 🙂

Stew is one of those simple, comforting meals that warms you from the inside out.  You can throw a good stew together with whatever you have, and then listen to the sound of your pot bubbling merrily on the back of the stove while your whole house fills with homey, delicious smells. Win, win.  There is nothing better than stew on a cold day.

In my humble opinion, the best cooking is done in the best cookware, and if you have a birthday or anniversary coming up, I highly recommend treating yourself to a Le Creuset dutch oven.  These babies are the Cadillac of cookware– and the investment will last a lifetime (Le Creuset replaces pieces that malfunction or wear out during your entire life. You can’t ask for better than that!).  Nothing does “low and slow” cooking like cast iron.  Start out by pouring a few tablespoons of olive oil into the bottom of your cast iron pan.  Cast iron doesn’t need super high heat to sear (many people mistakenly turn the heat up too high and ruin their cast iron cookware).  Heat your pan up slowly– I use about 3.5 on the dial to sear meat.  You never really need to go higher than that.  Just give the pan about 10 minutes to heat up– don’t crank the heat because it’s not getting hot as fast as nonstick cookware.

Next, let’s talk MEAT.  Ahhhh, one of my favorite subjects. 🙂  The best meat for stew is a cheap, fatty cut like chuck roast.  The fat throughout the meat will melt down into soft, tender loveliness with low and slow cooking.  I like to use about a 1.5 pound chuck roast for stew.  Cut your roast into 1 inch chunks.

Once the beef is cut into chunks, sprinkle the pieces liberally with SPOG (equal mixture of salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder). I use this seasoning often for meat and just mix it up in empty spice containers to keep on hand.  Turn the pieces and make sure that all sides of the meat are seasoned.

When the pan is hot (but not smoking), place your seasoned meat pieces into the hot oil just enough to sear each side. Don’t crowd the pan.

You will have to do several batches, and after you turn and brown each batch, place the pieces on a paper-towel lined plate so that they can drain while you start the next batch of meat.

This is what you want your meat to look like– just that perfect, caramelized sear from a few minutes of cooking on each side.  You don’t want the meat cooked all the way through, just seared so that the juices are sealed in.  Don’t worry about getting “every single side,” either. Just hit the high points.  Mostly seared on the big sides.

When all your meat is finished searing, this is what your pan will look like. Gross, right?  Wash it?

NOOOOOO!!!!  All that glorious, browned goodness is FLAVOR like you wouldn’t believe.  Don’t you dare wash the dishes!  (Don’t you wish you could hear THAT every day?  haha).

Dump your cooking sherry into the hot pan and use the liquid to scrape all the browned bits off the bottom.  All that brown stuff will make unbelievable beef flavor.  Add in your onions and garlic and saute just until slightly translucent and fragrant.  Your entire house will smell amazing during this time.  You might have random neighbors drifting in, led by their noses . . .

Next add in 1 cup of your beef stock (just to give your mixture some liquid), and throw in your chopped vegetables.  Well don’t THROW in, unless you’re trying to become a major league pitcher.  But plop them in there.  Simmer the vegetables for 15/20 minutes, just until they are starting to soften, but still have some bite to them.

At this point add in the rest of your beef stock, your spices, and your tomato sauce.  Pour in the drained beef pieces and stir.  Cover the stew and let it simmer on low heat for about 3 hours, stirring every hour or so and making sure that nothing is sticking.

Comforting Beef Stew

When the vegetables and meat are fall apart tender, remove the bay  leaves and mix your cornstarch with just enough water to make a milky fluid, then add it all at once to the stew.  Stir in the cornstarch mixture until the stew thickens– this only takes about a minute.  And then turn off the heat under the stew.

Comforting Beef Stew

Stir in the frozen peas.  Say what?  Frozen peas?  Oh yes.  The cool thing about stirring in frozen vegetables is that they don’t lose their color, and they cool off the molten stew *just* enough that you can eat it right away.  Warm and cozy and comforting.

Comforting Beef Stew

After that, it’s all just fun stuff.  Build yourself a cozy, crackling fire in the fireplace, ladle big bowls of warm, delicious stew, and cut some crusty French bread.  Enjoy comfort that warms you from the inside out, from the top of your head to the tip of your toes.

You did it. And I’m just so proud of you.


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