More meat: Beef stew

For weeks after mom visits, it’s MeatMeatMeat around here. This time, it’s beef stew.

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The kid LOVES meat. It’s kind of funny, because she wouldn’t even eat it as a child unless she didn’t know it was meat (frex, chicken nuggets). My mother also loves meat — has it at virtually every meal.

beef stew
Photo by Terry Donaghe

I, however, was a vegetarian for years and years, and would still only eat meat occasionally, given my ideal world. I think my mom thinks I’m depriving the kid of vital sustenance by only cooking meat for dinner a few times a week.  The kid certainly thinks so.  (In my defense, there’s usually a selection of cold cuts in the fridge so the confirmed meat-eaters can get their dead-animal quotient at lunch.)

I’m sure this belief in the primacy of life-giving flesh foods is the reason that my freezer suddenly fills to bursting every time my mom comes to town.  I may have mentioned this a few times already; it’s really an amazing phenomenon.  She brings me a gigantic cooler full of frozen meat and for weeks, we eat WAY more meat than is customary around here.

One time, she brought me an eleven-pound pork loin. The sucker had to TURN A CORNER to fit in my freezer. It was like a massive frozen meat boomerang. I wish I’d taken a photo.  Here’s a pretty pork loin, though.*

pork loin
Photo by Ernesto Andrade

Beef stew is a very forgiving recipe. Use what you have. Improvise. You can even just make stew out of meat, potatoes, salt, pepper, and garlic. Trust me, I’ve done it, and it was wonderful. This stew was exceptionally good, though, so I thought I’d give you the low-down on how I did it. Just take it as read that just about every ingredient has an imaginary “(optional)” written next to it, and that all quantities are approximations, ‘kay?

Also, this is a very meaty version of beef stew. If you’ve only got two pounds of roast or you have cholesterol issues, the stew is just fine with less meat in it. Don’t tell my mom I said so. (Hi, Mom!)

Beef Stew
Yield: a large pot of stew (6-8 quarts, or around 12-16 two-cup servings)

4 lbs. boneless chuck roast (you can use bone-in and remove the bones later; whatever)
1 cup red wine or water or stock or other liquid (I used marsala left over from making tiramisu earlier in the week)
3 tablespoons oil or butter or some combination of oil and butter
4 small or 2 large onions, chopped
1 1/2 lbs. mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon granulated garlic or 6 cloves fresh garlic, chopped finely
1 teaspoon seasoned salt or plain salt
1 tablespoon Costco organic no-salt seasoning blend (or your preferred herbs/spices)
4 quarts or so of water or beef stock, or some combination
a couplefew potatoes, cubed (2 cups of cubes? more? I just keep adding potatoes and carrots until the pot is full)
a couplefew carrots, sliced

Cut the meat into cubes — I made large (maybe 1.5-inch) cubes; you cut them as large or small as you like. Heat a heavy-bottomed, six-to-eight-quart soup pot over high heat and add a small batch of the meat cubes to brown. Don’t turn them for 2 minutes, and don’t put in so many that they crowd — you don’t want to steam them, you want to sear them. After 2 minutes, they should be easy to flip — turn them to brown on the opposite side for another 2 minutes. You can do all six sides, but I don’t bother. Remove them to a large bowl and do the rest of the meat that way, in batches.

Once the last batch of meat is out of the pot, add the wine or other liquid and stir well with a wooden spoon until all the fond (or whatever that crusted-on meat stuff is called) is deglazed from the pot. Add the liquid to the bowl of meat and set aside.

Next, add the oil and/or butter to the pan, turn the heat down to medium-high, and toss in the onions and mushrooms, along with the garlic, salt, and other seasoning. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to turn translucent and the mushrooms are much reduced in bulk. Add the meat back into the pot and just cover with the water and/or stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 hours or so (until 1 hour before serving time). You may have to skim some foam from the top after 20 minutes or so; you may also at some point have to add a little liquid — just keep the soup barely covered with liquid.

One hour before serving time, add the potatoes and carrots, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer until serving time. Serve hot with good bread.  My mom often thickens her stew with a cornstarch slurry; I usually don’t bother, but if you like it thick, you can do the cornstarch thing (dissolve a tablespoon or two of cornstarch in a little cold water; add a little at a time to boiling soup until it comes back to a boil; add more if necessary until it’s thick enough), or you can mash up a few of the potato chunks for thickening.

My kid shares my Mom-Food-inspired belief that beef stew just isn’t right without bread and butter to dip into it, but I’ll leave that decision up to you.  Highly recommended, though. Good bread. Lots of butter.  Yum.

* I adore the Creative Commons search on Flickr.  Thanks to Skelliewag for pointing out its existence.

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Author: Serene

I run The Mom Food Project, which was born out of love for my mom and a desire to preserve the recipes of my childhood, which didn't actually exist in written form until I quizzed my mom and wrote the recipes down.

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