Stew is a thick soup that typically includes chunks of meat and vegetables in a flavorful sauce. The mixture is cooked at low heat for hours to tenderize the meat and slowly cook the vegetables. For the meat to hold up to long cooking without falling apart, it has to be cut from tougher pieces of meat.
Stew Meat Types
Although beef is commonly associated with stews, you can use pork, lamb or poultry just as successfully as long as it has enough connective tissue to keep it intact during stewing and enough fat to slowly melt and impart the stew with rich taste. If you choose tender cuts, they will fall apart during the process and very lean meat becomes tough during stewing. Beef stew meat is usually cut from large pieces of the cow’s leg, butt or shoulder that contain plate, brisket, rib and chuck roasts. If you make pork stew, use pork shoulder or a Boston butt pork roast, both of which have ample amounts of marbling that adds deep flavor to the stew when slow cooked. The best lamb stew meat comes from the leg. For stew made with chicken, boneless thighs hold up better during stewing and are more flavorful than breasts.
Cut all stew meat into uniform pieces around 1 to 2 inches square and make sure each piece has some fat in it. Lightly coat the meat in flour through tossing it in a paper bag with flour or dredging it in flour in a shallow pan or dish. Shake off the excess and quickly brown on all sides in vegetable oil heated over medium high heat in the pot you are using for the stew. Brown in batches and remove to a plate. The crispy crust on the meat pieces seals in the juices and when the stew is done, you can stir the roux on the bottom of the pan into the liquid to make instant gravy.
Preparing the Vegetables
In a separate pan, sauté the aromatics for the stew to caramelize them and impart the stew with added flavor and aroma. Good aromatics include leeks, onions, garlic and shallots. After they turn golden brown, stir in chunked stew vegetables like potatoes, carrots, turnips and parsnips and add the entire mixture to the stew pot.
Stew can be prepared in an electric slow cooker or in a heavy pot or Dutch oven on a stove top or in an oven. If using regular cookware, choose a heavy heat-retaining material such as enameled cast iron or hard-anodized aluminum and make sure the lid fits tight to prevent the stew from drying out during cooking. Check specific recipes for recommended temperatures and cooking times.