Rich, hearty beef stew is a wintertime family favorite. You can cook the beef quickly by browning it and then adding the other ingredients and simmering them for two to three hours, but your stew meat might be tough and chewy when cooked this way. The best way to cook beef for stew is to slow cook it along with the other stew ingredients. Not only does slow cooking tenderize the beef, you can place all the stew ingredients in your slow cooker in the morning and have dinner ready for your family that evening without any further effort.
When it comes to selecting meat for beef stew, you have many options. Don't just buy the first package of beef labeled "stew meat" that you see at the store. Many packages of beef that are labeled for stew are brisket or bottom round, which are tough, dry cuts of meat. Instead, look for chuck or shank cuts. These cuts of beef are ideal for stewing because they are tough enough not to cook down to nothing during slow cooking, but they will cook to a tender texture. In addition, chuck and shank are both flavorful cuts.
The morning of the day you will be serving the stew, add the stew meat to the slow cooker along with your other ingredients. Place the lid on the pot and slow cook the stew on low for six to eight hours. The cooking time depends on the ingredients as well as how much stew you will be making. If you are making a large pot of stew for a big crowd, or if your stew contains a lot of beef and potatoes in proportion to the other ingredients, plan on using the entire eight hours. Add seasonings, such as a packet of dry salad dressing and seasoning mix, at the beginning of the cooking period so the flavors can blend all day.
The beautiful part of beef stew is that it is a fix-it-and-forget-it meal. That doesn't mean that you won't want to prepare anything to go with the stew, however. A fresh loaf of crusty bread, either homemade or from your local bakery, will be perfect for soaking up the savory juices. Wheat rolls or corn bread also pairs well with stew. Many people garnish beef stew with a dollop of sour cream. Try using prepared creamy ranch dip from a mix instead of plain sour cream for an interesting flavor boost.
Busy moms may shy away from making stew because the vegetables need to be prepared in the morning so they can slow cook all day. If your mornings are hectic, wash, peel and cut the vegetables the night before and place them in a resealable plastic bag. Store them in the refrigerator overnight, place the prepared vegetables over your stew meat, add your liquid and dry dressing and seasoning mix, and let your slow cooker work its magic.