Secrets to Great a Beef Stew

The weather front came through yesterday bringing actual fall like temperatures. For south Florida this means I can turn the air off. Have I mentioned how much I like living here recently?

But beef stew. I’ve made several iterations of this over the years, some more successful than others. Today I decided to make a batch so I had options for lunch and dinner this week. (Made the farro butternut squash salad yesterday.) No recipe, just what I remembered worked. So how did it turn out? Rather well. I am now firmly convinced there are a few essentials for good beef stew.

1. Bacon. Yes, it is trite that everything is better with bacon, but in the case of beef stew (or Beef Bourgogne if you are getting fancy) it really does add a lot to the dish. I don’t use much – just a slice or two from regular bacon, but I start with this. Once it has started to render, I add the garlic and shallot (and carrot) and make the base. Which brings me to …

2. Shallots. A taste the crosses onions and garlic, I find shallots indispensable in beef stew. I can add garlic and onion, or not, but for some reason if I leave out the shallot, it just doesn’t work. Chop small like garlic and don’t over cook.

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3. Good wine. I don’t advocate really expensive wine for cooking, but if you won’t drink a glass, don’t cook with it. Beef stew (at least the way I make it) has less than a half cup of wine. It varies as I don’t measure, but figure about a third of a cup. The type doesn’t make a difference, as long as it’s pretty good. I’ve used Zinfandel, Pino Noir, Bourdeux, and Cabernets. I refuse to spend more than $20 for a bottle of red, and usually it’s less than $15. But the good wines produce good sauce and sauce is the key to good beef stew.

4. Cook low and slow. Slow cooker, pressure cooker or stove top, low heat and long cooking times produces the most tender beef. It also allows you to use chuck roast and get just as good a flavor and texture as a filet. Low heat and for a few hours. It does pay off.

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5. Aromatics and seasoning. Do not skimp on these. Salt the meat, use herbs – bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, oregano etc. They all work but if you don’t use them you will not get the flavor. The best beef stew I ever made had thyme, oregano and bay leaves in addition to salt as I browned the meat and again at the end of cooking.

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Fall and winter are perfect for beef stew, so whether it’s with potatoes, over rice, barley or polenta, just go for it. And don’t forget the wine and seasoning. …

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Oh … And I made a buttermilk marble cake today. It needed no icing. At all need I say more?

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