Butcher counters sell pre-cut stew meat, but making your own allows you to choose the best quality meat. Chuck roast tops the list of preferred cuts for making beef stew, because it's economical and full-flavored. Never stringy or dry, chuck roast makes a beautiful stew when slowly braised.
What is Chuck?
Not only can you use chuck roast for stew -- you absolutely should. Chuck roast comes from the chuck -- or front -- portion of the steer. The whole chuck weighs about 100 pounds before it's divided into various cuts, such as brisket, chuck blade roast or chuck eye roast. Chuck is invariably a muscle-filled, tough cut of meat, but it has a rich, beefy flavor. When treated to long, slow braising, it melts and becomes fork tender. Chuck generally has more flavor than rump or round roasts and is less prone to dryness, as well. It's also among the most economical cuts of beef around.
Making Stew Meat
To make your own stew meat, select fresh, reasonably priced chuck roast at the grocery store. Most chuck roasts contain bones, but some are boneless. Either is fine, although you'll get more for your money if you get a boneless type. Remove any bits of fat thicker than 1/8 inch, but don't remove all of the fat, which adds flavor and moisture to the stew. Cut the chuck roast into 1- to 2-inch cubes. Use the stew meat immediately or package it in heavy plastic bags for later. Refrigerate stew meat for as long as three days at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or freeze it for three to six months.
Low and Slow
Making a stew with chuck roast is simple. Heat a bit of oil in a Dutch oven or heavy lidded pot. Brown the chuck roast for three to seven minutes, or until each piece of meat is browned on all sides. Brown the meat in batches, if necessary, so you don't crowd the pan. Once the meat is browned, add some braising liquid, seasonings and vegetables. Place the lid on the pot and slow cook the stew in the oven at 275 degrees F for two to three hours, or until the stew meat is fork tender and the vegetables are done. Thicken the stew with a roux made of butter and flour or with cornstarch.
Chuck roast's rich, beefy flavor pairs well with many seasonings and braising liquids. The classic French boeuf bourguignon is nothing more than a chuck roast stew browned with onions and bacon, and cooked with red wine, beef broth and tomato paste. Carbonnade a la flamande, a Belgian stew, pairs chuck roast with onions and Belgian beer. A beef ragout calls for canned tomatoes and their juice, red wine and Italian herb seasonings, while estofado offers south-of-the-border taste with a stew seasoned with salsa, red wine and chili peppers.