Cold weather provides plenty of inspiration for cooking up some super satisfying meals to warm you up from head to toe. A big batch of homemade stew just has a way of warming a body up just thinking about it. The other great thing about stew is that it can accommodate a cadre of those vegetables we need to nourish us after a holiday season of sweets and treats. Making a great stew is more about the technique of bringing out the best in each ingredient. Here are some ideas to help you make a perfect stew, for you!
You can stop with potatoes, carrots, and onions or jazz it up with the addition of green beans and perhaps some chunks of butternut squash or a little parsnip surprise. I love to include a few Brussels Sprouts cut in half, but they are not popular with everyone. They are easy to ladle around when dishing up the stew. Who knows if one stumbles onto a little mini cabbage—they might like it! Ok enough for wishful thinking, but they are good for you!
You won’t need to be exact when it comes to ingredients for a stew, so don’t think you have to measure every morsel going into it. If you love carrots, then include lots of them. I love onions for the flavor they bring to the stew. They just have a way of simmering in combination with the beef that builds a lot of flavors. I suppose you could season your stew pot by starting things off with a strip of bacon before ever browning the stew meat. Bacon is always a great flavor maker.
I’m always on the lookout for lean stew meat during the winter. I like to keep some on hand in the freezer for those days when I just want to hibernate and not make a trip to the grocery store. Spread the pieces out on a small baking sheet to freeze then store them in a plastic bag. This is great if you want to be able to parcel the stew meat out according to how many portions you will want. (I plan to have enough stew on hand for a day or two of warm satisfying lunches of course.)
Browing the stew meat is important, so start with blotting the chunks dry with paper towels then dusting them with some flour or corn starch. I prefer Wondra flour for dusting my stew meat before browning. I season the Dutch Oven or stew pot with a small amount of grapeseed oil. It is very important not to crowd the pieces of meat when browning as this can hamper the browning process or even lead to a large mass of gray globby stuff in the pan. It may be necessary to brown the meat in several batches to avoid crowding.
Once the meat is browned, deglazing is the most fun part of making a good stew. With all the meat in the bottom of the pan add a splash of red wine or cooking sherry and enough beef broth to just cover the chunks of meat. Sometimes, I use a can of V-8 juice to deglaze. It is downright exciting as that liquid hits all those bits of browned flour and meat juices in the pan and sizzles up into a cloud of promise for the good stew to come. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat until the meat becomes tender. This will probably take about 15 to 30 minutes to tenderize the stew meat over low heat.
While the meat cooks and tenderizes, you can prepare the vegetables. Try to keep things like carrots and potatoes in similar sizes that work well in a spoon when cutting up the vegetables. If the carrots and potatoes are too large it will be difficult to enjoy them in combination with each other and the broth. I keep frozen green beans on hand to add to soups and stews, but I include them a little later in the process than the other vegetables so they maintain their bright green appearance.
You will want to include additional liquid for the final simmer of the stew. Canned tomatoes along with additional broth work beautifully. You can also add a zippy note to the stew with a cup or so of prepared salsa.
Recently, I made the stew by adding chopped onion and Poblano peppers to the saute’ of the stew meat with about a teaspoon of ground cumin. The cumin didn’t dominate the stew, but it did add just a hint of the Southwest. We loved it.
I hope this inspires you to simmer up some stew to satisfy your hungry on a cold winter evening!