Dateline, December 12th, 2016. Second snow storm in as many days, most schools closed, accidents everywhere, our little street is a skating rink. Wherever you are, a bunch of you said, ‘Recipe, please,’ when I posted a pic the other day of a Two Hour Beef Stew. Couldn’t ask for a better day than today to delve in, so here we go.
First off, can a stew made in a couple of hours really taste that good? Won’t your crew know it didn’t have proper time to really get good? The answers are, yup, without a doubt, and nope, they won’t. Yeah, it’ll be great the next day, but done right, you’ll fool ’em into thinking you slaved all day if you do things as I’ll show you here.
There are four tricks/secrets/thangs ya gotta do if you want a stew that’s been made quite quickly to taste like it took forever. They’re simple things, and they also happen to define a primary difference between what a professional cook turns out versus the typical home chef. They are as follows –
1. Always start with aromatics,
2. Coat you meat lightly in flour and allow it to caramelize,
3. Deglaze your pan after those are done, and
4. Season as you go.
Do that, in combination with judicious choices of ingredients, and you’re in like Flynn.
The beauty of beef stew lies in its simplicity. Sure, you can add more things than you’re gonna find in a can of Hormel, but you don’t really need to – Beef, stock, carrots, potatoes, onion, a little tomato paste, salt and pepper. Of course, if you want to add more stuff, you certainly can – I like tomatoes, because they add a nice tang to the broth and help cut the richness as well. Here’s what we’ll use –
Beef Stew a la UrbanMonique
1 Pound Stew Beef
1/2 Cup diced sweet Onion
2 Carrots, sliced into rounds
2 Yukon Gold Potatoes
4 Cups Chicken Stock
1 14 oz. can diced, fire roasted Tomatoes
2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil
2 Tablespoons Wondra Flour
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
Juice of 1/2 small Lemon
1/2 teaspoon Lemon Thyme
2 Bay Leaves
Fresh ground Pepper
We start with the aromatics – combinations of veggies and seasoning, sautéed in a little fat. This is the critical first step to building a great stew, soup, curry, stir fry, or house made stock. Onion, garlic, carrot, celery, parsnip, turnip, bay, sweet peppers and chiles, leeks, celeriac, and jicama all qualify. And there’s a reason that some of these combinations have venerable names of their own – Mire Poix from France, with onion, carrot and celery. Sofrito in Spain and Soffritto in Italy – Garlic, onion, tomato, and garlic and/or onion in olive oil, respectively. Garlic, spring onion, and ginger in many Asian cuisines. The Holy Trinity of Cajun cooking – onion, celery, and green pepper. Suppengrün in Germany, powered by carrot, celeriac, and leeks. Sautéed in oil or butter, ghee or coconut milk, these simple vegetables provide a subtle backbone of great flavor. Try building something without them, and you’ll immediately understand why they’re critical to success – Starting your stew with great aromatics guarantees that you’re building from a strong foundation.
Chop your aromatics to relatively uniform size prior to cooking. You needn’t be super fussy about this. For stew, a large dice of about 3/4″ will serve just fine, and if you want to leave your carrots as rounds, go ahead and do that. Cutting things up produces nice bite sized pieces, and provides more surface area for those great flavors to be released from.
In your stew pot, over medium heat, add a tablespoon or two of oil. I like Avocado Oil for its buttery flavor and high smoke point, but Olive will do just fine too. Once the oil is heated through, toss in your onion, carrot, and potatoes, and season them lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté until the onion starts to turn translucent. Salt and pepper is all you need for seasoning at this point – Oily, pungent herbs like bay, thyme, rosemary, and oregano will get the flavors sautéed right out of them if they’re introduced too early in the process. When your aromatics have cooked for 3 to 5 minutes, transfer them into a bowl.
Now it’s time for the meat, and here is where things also get done to ensure that we’re making stew and not soup – That means introducing a thickener. Cut stew beef down to roughly 3/4″ chunks if it’s not there already. Flour is the agent of choice for beef stew, and Wondra is the flour you want. Cooked and dried when it’s processed, Wondra is much less prone to clumping than ordinary flour, and makes wonderfully smooth sauces and stocks. A couple of tablespoons added to a pound of stew beef, a pinch of sea salt and a few twists of pepper, tossed by hand to assure a nice, even coat is all you need. Throw the floured beef into the stew pot over medium low heat, and then let it be. Let each side of your little beef cubes cook long enough for a nice, deep brown crust to develop – This means don’t mess with it inordinately – Let each side work before gently turning to the next. When your beef has a nice, even caramelized crust, toss it into the bowl with your veggies. This is a step that is far too often omitted or seriously short changed, and that’s not good – Take the time to do it right, and you’ll be amply repaid with great flavor. And trust me when I tell you that that flour will provide all the thickening power you’ll need.
Now comes deglazing. By this time, the sautéing of those veggies and the caramelization of your beef has left a wealth of dark stuff on the bottom of your stew pot. Amateurs think this will taste nasty and burned. Savvy chefs know that this stuff, called fond, is the source of some serious mojo. Take a good sniff of that pot – Does it smell good, like stuff you want to eat? If so, you’re go for deglaze, (and if not, ah well – wash that pot with a tear in your eye and start fresh, but you’ll be missing out on serious flavor.) deglazing frees up all those wonderful naughty bits to join the stew party. Get a stiff spatula, and a cup of the chicken stock called for in the recipe. Turn the heat up to medium high, wait a minute for the pot to heat through, then splash that stock in there. You’ll get a cloud of heavenly smelling steam and heat. Use your spatula to scrape all that good stuff loose and incorporate it into the stock. As soon as that’s done, add the rest of the stock, turn the heat back down to medium, and let everything heat through.
Now toss your sautéed veggies and meat into the pot, add the tomatoes and bay, tomato paste, and lemon juice and stir to incorporate. Season one more time with salt, pepper, and lemon thyme. Turn the heat down to low, and let that magic work for a couple of hours.
What you’ll end up with will taste like it worked all day. Serve it with crusty bread and a nice glass of red wine or a local beer. You don’t have to tell them how fast you did it.