I have to say that in general, beef stew is one of those dishes I had always been ‘meh’ about. I never disliked it, but I can’t say I ever craved it either.
I think I probably associate it with the gross canned stuff that everybody ate in college. You know, that brownish sludge with chunks of ‘beef’ and flecks of ‘carrot’. No thanks!
But a couple of weeks ago we went to my brother and sister-in-law’s house for dinner and they made a version of beef stew that was so good, I knew I wanted to make one at home. It reminded me that stew is basically just braised beef, off the bone. And if your braising liquid is really flavorful, chances are your beef will be too. That’s just science.
I ended up adapting a recipe from the always brilliant Smitten Kitchen, which itself was adapted from Regina Schrambling via The NYT. The key to this recipe is the copious amount of mustard that the beef cooks in. I actually reduced it a little in my version, not because the original wouldn’t be tasty, but I found it just didn’t need quite as much.
If you hate mustard and everything it stands for you’re probably
not even reading this not going to cook this but if you’re on the fence, know that mustard mellows a lot when it’s cooked. The sharp vinegary bite becomes more of a deep savoriness.
You could also use red wine instead of the brandy but the rich, almost toasty flavor works incredibly well with the mustard. I also added garlic, thyme and bay leaves just because I like them, though you could leave them out or swap the thyme for rosemary.
- Kathy, my sister in law, used a slow cooker which would work really well for beef stew. One thing she did which I thought was brilliant was that she roasted the carrots separately so they kept a really bright flavor and color (which is hard to do in a crockpot). If you do this, roast the shallots on the same tray with the carrots.
- If using a slow cooker, cook for 4 hours on high or 7-8 hours on low.
- The shallots are completely optional but I love them braised. Don’t forget to leave a little of the root end intact so they don’t fall apart.
- The original recipes for beef stew use the bacon for the fat only but stirred the crispy bits in. You could add them to a salad instead or eliminate them entirely.
- ¼ pound pancetta or bacon, diced (optional)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 10 shallots, peeled, halved vertically, and trimmed off the root end
- 2-4 tablespoons butter, as needed
- 2 pounds beef chuck, in 1-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons flour
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup brandy or Cognac
- 2½ cups unsalted beef or chicken stock
- ½ cup smooth Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon coarse Dijon or Pommery mustard
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, picked and chopped if large
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1½ inch chunks
- ½ pound crimini or button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
- Preheat oven to 325ºF / 160ºC
- Place bacon in a Dutch oven or a large heavy kettle over low heat, and cook until fat is rendered. Remove solid pieces with a slotted spoon, and set aside. Note: If you don't want to use bacon, just melt 2 tablespoons butter. Raise heat to medium-high. Season beef lightly with salt but generously with pepper and lightly toss with flour. Place half the cubes in the pan. Cook in a single layer (don't crowd the pan, do it in more batches if necessary) over medium-high heat until well browned on all sides, then transfer to a large bowl. Repeat with remaining beef, adding the second batch of browned beef to the bowl.
- If the pan is dry, add 2 tablespoons butter. Add onions and cook until softened but not brown, about 10-12 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add brandy and cook, stirring, until the bottom is deglazed and any crusted-on bits come loose. Add stock, thyme, bay leaves, smooth Dijon mustard and coarse mustard. Whisk to blend, then return meat to pot. Bring liquid to a gentle simmer, cover pot and place in the oven. Cook until meat is very tender, about 1¼ hours, stirring occasionally.
- Note: If using a slow cooker, add sauce and browned beef and cook for 4 hours on high or 7-8 hours on low. Add carrots and shallots halfway through or roast them separately.
- Stir in carrots and shallots, and continue cooking for 35-40 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. As they cook, heat 2 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over medium-high heat, and sauté mushrooms until browned and tender. Stir mushrooms and reserved crumbled bacon into stew, then taste, and adjust seasoning.
- Serve hot, with boiled potatoes or buttered egg noodles.