The antidote to bad weather? Beef stew!
Simple and aromatic, this classic relies on the overlooked and most flavorful cuts of beef. Because beef is the key ingredient, you want the best quality, which does not mean the most expensive.
Beef chuck or beef round cost far less than a tenderloin, T-bone or rib-eye. And grass-fed beef is always a good choice because it’s from cattle raised outdoors and on pasture without antibiotics. Lean and clean-tasting, the meat turns tender and silky as it braises over low heat for a while, contributing that rich, dark essence to the pot.
In my quest for a great beef stew, I reached out to Kathy Draeger, who raises cattle, barley and fabulous garlic on the family’s Vangard Farm in Clinton, Minn. (she is also statewide director for the University of Minnesota regional sustainable development partnerships). In her recipe, chunks of beef, barley and fragrant garlic simmer along with whatever vegetables she has on hand. Right now, it’s root-cellar carrots; but come spring, she’ll toss in sweet peas and piles of spinach from the garden.
In this version, the dark beer — stout — is paired with garlic and onions for foundational flavors. The stout, tempered by heat, mellows and adds a toasty-sweet lustiness to the stew. Some cooks prefer wine for its tannic, berry edge. But I love this Irish touch.
One important step is to brown the meat first, then the onions and garlic to develop that sticky glaze on the bottom, called the “fond” that gives stew its richness. Hold off adding the vegetables until the meat is fully cooked so they retain their shape.
You can cook the stew in a low oven, but I prefer stovetop where I can give it a stir once in a while and check on the level of liquid so that it doesn’t become too dry. It’s a good dish for a slow cooker or Instant Pot, too. Because my countertop is tiny, my pots live on the stove.
Beef stew is one of those classics that is fun to mess with. Feel free to add whatever you like and make it your own. Crumbled blue cheese? Chopped olives and fire-roasted tomatoes? All good.
I decided to give ours some zip with spoonfuls of commercially prepared spicy corn salsa.
Like most long-cooked dishes, this one tastes even better the next day. Count on leftovers you’re going to love.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.