Whether you want to make beef stew, lamb stew or any kind of stew really, the basic technique is same. Start with quality ingredients, lesser cuts of meat and choose an acid, like tomatoes, to add depth of flavor and ensure your stew meats is the absolute most tender it can be.
The Right Cuts of Meat
Stews, whether made on the stovetop, in the crockpot or over a campfire, are slow cooked, making high quality cuts of beef and other meats a poor choice for their tendency to cook down quickly and fall apart. Always choose lesser, tougher cuts of meat for your stews. Tougher meats come from most-used muscles in the animal and slow cooking allows them to grow tender and release their deep flavor over time, so it infuses the whole of the stew.
To make beef stew, start with about three pounds of chuck, trimmed. Butchers often have pre-cut stew meat available for purchase, but if not, cut the meat into medium-sized chunks to start. Any smaller and they'll cook to fast; any larger and they'll take too long to cook and the rest of your ingredients will suffer from longer cooking times.
Browning the Meat
Browning your stew is what helps release its flavor, something that won't happen if you just toss it raw into a pot set to simmer. Use a heavy-bottomed pot and coat it with just enough oil to cover the bottom. Set the pot to medium-high heat and then press the chunks of stew meat between layers of paper towels.
Some recipes tell you to dredge the meat with flour before browning, while others are adamant that you brown the meat first, then add the flour and continue browning. Try both methods to determine which one is your preferred way to brown the meat. Either way, brown the meat in batches so you don't overcrowd the pan and take care to brown all sides of each chunk. Remove pieces that are done and set aside on a plate until you're ready to add them back to the pot.
Deglazing the Pot
Once all the stew meat is browned, reserve it all on a plate and add approximately three cups of mire poix to the pot (chopped onions, carrots and celery). Stir for a few minutes until you begin to smell the vegetables cooking. Next, add about ¼ cup of red wine to the pot and stir vigorously, taking care to loosen and scrape all the bits that have adhered to the bottom of the pot during the browning. Add the stew meat back to the pot.
Cover the meat and mire poix about halfway with water, beef stock or vegetable stock. If you plan to add more wine to your stew, add it now. Next, season your stew with salt and pepper and your favorite herbs (bay leaves are a common choice). Bring the stew to a boil, then reduce immediately to a simmer. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and cook until stew meat is tender enough to be cut with a fork, about 90 minutes.
If you like large pieces of vegetable like potato, turnip or parsnip in your stew, add them now. If you prefer smaller bits, then wait to add the vegetables until closer to the end of cooking (or cut vegetables into two sizes and add them now and later). Cook until the largest vegetables are tender, but still have some heft (you don't want your vegetables to disintegrate).
Classic beef stew is cooked on the stove top, but you can also make your stew in the oven. You'll start the stew on the stove, per usual, but once you've added the stock, meat and vegetables back to the pot, you'll cover and place the pot in an oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about two hours. Add your small vegetables about 90 minutes through cooking or right at the end and cook for an additional 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
The best thing about making beef stew in a slow cooker is that you can assemble your ingredients in the morning and come dinner time, you have a hearty meal ready to serve. Look for beef stew recipes written especially for crockpots and slow cookers and follow the instructions carefully so you get the best results. Expect the stew to cook for anywhere from eight to ten hours at low heat.
If you have a cast-iron Dutch oven, you could make beef stew on your gas grill too. This trick might come in handy when you're cooking for large groups or holidays and can't afford to devote your stove's burners or your oven to one dish. You can do your initial prep on your stove or on the grill, but once you've gotten all of your ingredients together, you'll place the Dutch oven between two burners on your gas grill to take advantage of the indirect heat (direct heat will cook the stew too quickly). Cover the Dutch oven, close the lid on your grill and allow the stew to cook for about an hour (or until ingredients have reached the desired level of doneness).
Stew meat is perfect for stews, of course, but it can also be used in many other dishes. These recipes will help you cut down on your meat budget while eating well.
Dumplings are a perfect addition to warm beef or lamb stew. There are quite a few dumpling variations you can make or you can try to mix and match depending upon which stew recipes you've decided to cook. Experiment with different types of dumplings to see which kind you and your family prefer.
When the cold November winds begin to blow and snow threatens, stew recipes are just what the doctor ordered to keep away the chill. Thick and robust Brunswick stew recipes hit the spot every time.