A filling and savory comfort food, beef stew can be easy to make and very flavorful. The most hands-on element is the browning of the meat before it goes in the pot; once that is accomplished, add the rest of your ingredients and sit back and relax. Stovetop stew lends itself to a richer flavor as you can use the meat drippings, while slow cooker stew is a leaner, but an equally tasty, option.
Searing the Meat
Stew meat usually comes pre-cut, but if not, you'll want 2-inch pieces of chuck meat, the same meat used in a pot roast, as chuck lends itself best to a slow cooking process. Season the meat with salt and pepper, then sear it in a stew pot with a few tablespoons of vegetable oil or olive oil. The meat should reach a core temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit before it's removed from the heat; use a meat thermometer to verify. If you're cooking the stew on the stove, leave the pot on medium heat; if with the slow cooker method, transfer what drippings you can to the cooker.
Dredge the meat in flour before searing it, for extra thickness and to seal in the flavor as it cooks in the stew.
Onions and celery should be caramelized first, so add them to the stew pot and brown them, using the meat drippings. Once that's done, use a small amount of red wine to deglaze the stew pot, then add the meat; vegetables; desired seasonings; and 1 part each of water, red wine and beef broth. You'll want about 3 cups of each liquid for a good stew. Mix the ingredients together and let the stew cook on low heat for 2 to 3 hours for the best results.
Deglazing is a term that refers to the process of removing browned meat residue and caramelized drippings from the bottom of the pan. You do this so the flavor of the drippings will cook in with the entire dish.
Slow Cooker Stew
Slow cooker stew is simpler, a dump-and-go sort of method. Add the seared stew meat and drippings to your slow cooker, then add in equal parts beef broth, water and red wine. Give it a couple of stirs before adding in 2-inch pieces of onion, celery, carrots and potatoes. Season with salt and pepper, put the lid on top, and let it cook on low heat for at least 6 hours, though 8 hours is best.
Herbs and spices add great flavor to a stew. Experiment with herbs such as rosemary, thyme or bay leaves and consider spices like paprika or cumin for additional flavor. While red wine is a go-to standard with beef stews, you can also substitute a dark stout beer for a rich caramel taste. And if you don't have beef broth on hand, switch in chicken broth, an excellent pinch hitter that won't detract from the taste of the beef stew.
Beef stew pairs well with a sturdy bread like sourdough, as you can dip it in the stew and soak up the sauce. Cornbread is another great pairing, and if you feel the need for a side dish, go with something light such as salad or fresh fruit, to counter the heaviness of the stew.
Beef stew isn't a long-lasting leftover, as it will only keep refrigerated for 3 to 4 days, according to USDA guidelines. The beef stew should go into the fridge within 2 hours of having been cooked, to prevent bacterial growth. If you want to freeze leftover stew, pour it into freezer-safe containers and seal tightly before freezing for up to 3 months.