All-American Beef Stew
I’m in the mood for stew. (Is that a song title? It should be.) It’s about the weather, which finally last night took a final turn toward fall. And it’s about the gravy — on potatoes or macaroni or rice or polenta … or biscuits, or to dunk into with crusty bread. Yes, that’s it. It’s about gravy and starch, although I like the meat well-enough, too.
With all of us looking for more comfort and familiarity from our food lately, a good stew seems in order. It’s got it all. My friend Michael Whiteman, the restaurant consultant, told me last night that he just read a marketing study that says people are fed up (pardon the pun) with eating healthy foods; that the low-fat trend has bottomed out. None of us needed to read a study to know this, but it’s comforting in itself to know that the science matches our feelings and observations.
Without further contemplation on the phenomenon, I offer the following recipe. It’s an old-fashioned and all-American beef stew with a thick and richly flavored gravy, a lot of gravy. In fact, I’ve devised it to make enough gravy that you can serve it with a side starch and still have enough for dunking bread. Dunking bread. Now there’s a comfort.
Old-Fashioned Beef Stew
Serves 6 to 8
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 pounds trimmed, but well-marbled chuck stew meat
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed or pressed
- 2 13 3/4-ounce cans beef broth
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 large bay leaf
- Freshly ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
- 2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks or slices
- 3 large ribs celery, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
- 3 large all-purpose potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
- 1/4 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1 10-ounce box frozen peas, defrosted
In a 5-quart Dutch oven or other heavy pot with a cover, heat about half the vegetable oil over medium-high heat.
While the oil is heating, start dredging the meat in the flour, kneading flour into each piece and shaking off the excess. Add the meat to the hot oil without crowding the pan. There should be space around each piece of meat and it should continue to sizzle briskly, but without smoking or burning. Brown the meat on all sides, adjusting the heat as necessary.
As the pieces of meat in the pan brown, remove them, place in a bowl, and add more meat, until all the meat is browned. As you go, you will have to add more oil. If you notice the oil or the residue in the pan is beginning to burn, lower heat and/or add a little more oil.
Add the chopped onion and sauté for 5 minutes, scraping up any browned meat and flour residue in the pan.
Add the garlic and sauté a minute longer.
Return the meat and all its juices to the pot. Add the broth and enough water to totally but barely cover the meat.
Stir in the tomato paste, thyme, bay leaf, several grinds of the peppermill, and the Worcestershire sauce. (Beef broth contains quite a bit of salt, so adjust the salt later.)
Simmer gently over medium-low heat until the meat is barely tender, usually about 1 1/2 hours, but start checking with a fork after an hour, and every 10 or 15 minutes after that. (To be really sure, taste a piece of the meat. You do not want the meat optimally tender at this point.) Taste for salt, pepper, and perhaps another spoonful of tomato paste.)
(You can freeze the stew now, first cooled to lukewarm, then add the vegetables when finishing and reheating it. Thaw to cold room temperature to continue.)
With the stew at a gentle simmer, add the carrots, celery, and potatoes. Simmer another 20 minutes, until the vegetables are fully tender and the meat is fully tender and ready to eat. Add the mushrooms and defrosted frozen peas. Return to a simmer, cooking until the peas are cooked, a minute or so.
Serve immediately, or if serving later, leave out the peas until you reheat the stew – gently, without boiling.
Serve over egg noodles, macaroni, rice, or with soft polenta. Accompany with a large salad, steamed broccoli or cooked greens, such as spinach, Swiss chard, escarole, mustard greens, etc.