Best Beef Stew

Published January 1, 2010. From Cook's Illustrated.

Why this recipe works:

The taste of beef stew is rarely as complex as its rich aroma would lead you to believe. We wanted a rich-tasting but approachable beef stew with tender meat, flavorful vegetables, and a rich brown gravy that justified the time it took to prepare.

Step one for achieving rich meaty flavor is… read more

The taste of beef stew is rarely as complex as its rich aroma would lead you to believe. We wanted a rich-tasting but approachable beef stew with tender meat, flavorful vegetables, and a rich brown gravy that justified the time it took to prepare.

Step one for achieving rich meaty flavor is proper browning. If you crowd the pan, the meat ends up steaming in its own juices, so for a big pot of stew, it’s important to sear the meat in two separate batches. After browning the beef (beefy-tasting chuck-eye is our preferred cut for stew), we caramelized the usual choices of onions and carrots, rather than just adding them raw to the broth.

Along with traditional stew components like garlic, red wine, and chicken broth, we added ingredients rich in glutamates like tomato paste, salt pork, and anchovies. Glutamates are compounds that give meat its savory taste and they contribute considerable flavor to the dish. To mimic the luxurious, mouth-coating texture of beef stews made with homemade stock (provided by the collagen in bones that is transformed into gelatin when simmered), we included powdered gelatin and flour. The rest of the recipe was simple. We added frozen pearl onions toward the end of cooking along with some frozen peas. As for potatoes, medium-starch Yukon Golds added halfway through cooking beat out starchy russets.

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Serves 6 to 8

Use a good-quality, medium-bodied wine, such as Côtes du Rhône or Pinot Noir, for this stew. Try to find beef that is well marbled with white veins of fat. Meat that is too lean will come out slightly dry. Four pounds of blade steaks, trimmed of gristle and silver skin, can be substituted for the chuck-eye roast. While the blade steak will yield slightly thinner pieces after trimming, it should still be cut into 11/2-inch pieces. Look for salt pork that is roughly 75 percent lean. The stew can be cooled, covered tightly, and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat it gently before serving.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 4 anchovy fillets, finely minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 boneless beef chuck-eye roast (about 4 pounds), trimmed of excess fat, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (see note and step by step below)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, halved and cut from pole to pole into 1/8-inch-thick slices (about 2 cups)
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups red wine (see note)
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 ounces salt pork, rinsed of excess salt (see note)
  • 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen pearl onions, thawed
  • 2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin (about 1 packet)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • Table salt and ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. 1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine garlic and anchovies in small bowl; press with back of fork to form paste. Stir in tomato paste and set mixture aside.

    2. Pat meat dry with paper towels. Do not season. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over high heat until just starting to smoke. Add half of beef and cook until well browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total, reducing heat if oil begins to smoke or fond begins to burn. Transfer beef to large plate. Repeat with remaining beef and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, leaving second batch of meat in pot after browning.

    3. Reduce heat to medium and return first batch of beef to pot. Add onion and carrots to Dutch oven and stir to combine with beef. Cook, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits, until onion is softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until no dry flour remains, about 30 seconds.

    4. Slowly add wine, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits. Increase heat to high and allow wine to simmer until thickened and slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth, bay leaves, thyme, and salt pork. Bring to simmer, cover, transfer to oven, and cook for 1 1/2 hours.

    5. Remove pot from oven; remove and discard bay leaves and salt pork. Stir in potatoes, cover, return to oven, and cook until potatoes are almost tender, about 45 minutes.

    6. Using large spoon, skim any excess fat from surface of stew. Stir in pearl onions; cook over medium heat until potatoes and onions are cooked through and meat offers little resistance when poked with fork (meat should not be falling apart), about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatin over water in small bowl and allow to soften for 5 minutes.

    7. Increase heat to high, stir in softened gelatin mixture and peas; simmer until gelatin is fully dissolved and stew is thickened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste; serve.

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