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The 7 Rules for Making Beef Stew

How can you be sure your stew will be a rich, beefy main that comforts on a cold night? Follow these rules to stew success from our editorial director food, Lucinda Scala Quinn.

Senior Digital Food Editor
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Beef stew is a dish that most of us grew up with, and one that we cook for ourselves. Why is it such a classic? Because it is delicious, filling, and warming. What’s not to like? Well ... things can go awry. To avoid watery stew, tough meat, or mushy vegetables follow Lucinda Scala Quinn’s guidelines for making beef stew.

1. The Correct Cut

Boneless chuck is the classic choice for a beef stew, but it’s not the only cut that will make for a flavorful stew. Lucinda suggests talking to your butcher and seeing what they are offering for stew meat. Look for well-marbled beef.

2. No Flour; Brown the Meat

She used to dredge, but now Lucinda is a no-flour stew maker. She says you get more caramelization on the meat without flour; flour can make the meat more likely to burn than caramelize.

3. Don’t Crowd the Pan

Make sure your pan is very hot before adding the room-temperature meat pieces. Be sure to leave enough room surrounding each piece in the pan so air can circulate around the meat as it browns. If you crowd the meat together in the pan, the meat will steam, not brown -- and that does not make for a flavorful stew. An enamelled cast-iron Dutch oven is the best stew pot.

4. Keep Flavoring Minimal

“Don’t go all-out with spices or with herbs -- let the flavor of the meat shine.” Lucinda likes a little thyme in her stew, but that’s all.

5. Secret Ingredient

“Use a tiny bit of tomato paste in the ‘fond’ that forms on the bottom of the pan when you brown the meat. It doesn’t make it taste tomatoey but it adds a caramel sweetness to the stew.”

6. Vegetables -- Be Choosy

Some cooks like to use whatever vegetables they have on hand, and lots of them. (The ‘throw it all in’ school of stew-making.) Lucinda doesn’t like too many vegetables in her stew: “Beef stew should taste of beef,” she says. She uses onion, garlic, carrot, and celery along with the potatoes. Half the vegetables are added after the meat is browned; the other half are added 20 to 30 minutes before the stew is finished so they retain some crunch. Peas are optional, but if using, be sure to add them just before serving so they retain their freshness and color.

7. And those Potatoes

“Use lighter, fluffier potatoes like an Idaho, rather than a more waxy one like Yukon Gold,” Lucinda recommends. “They will mash up better.” Potatoes are her second secret weapon: She thickens her stew with mashed potatoes. No one likes a watery stew!

 

Lucinda thinks beef stew is best served with rice or noodles. What’s your favorite accompaniment?

 

With red wine, with barley, or for the slow cooker, try our beef stew recipes.

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