The biggest decision we have to make on the night's beef stew is for dinner is: do we eat it with a fork or a spoon? There's also a bit of debate over whether this ought to be served sitting atop mashed potatoes or a fifty-fifty split in the bowl. Otherwise, this is all about ease and the kinda comfort that only a slowly braised meal can provide.
I have three must do's for a good stew:
- Never let the meat boil -- in other words, always keep the pot at a low simmer, more aggressive cooking will result in tough meat
- Always use thyme -- beef and thyme braised together is magical
- Add some wine -- red or white, good enough quality that you'd drink it but whatever you have leftover
2 lbs best you can afford stew meat (I use grass-fed chuck)
2 tablespoons oil (I use grapeseed)
1 tablespoon flour
Salt and pepper
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 medium carrots, diced (I don't peel)
3 medium celery stalks, diced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped or grated
1 tsp dried thyme
1 cup red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 beef stock cube (Knorr brand)
3 cups boiling water (or use 3 cups of beef or chicken broth and omit stock cube)
2 cups frozen peas
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or similar pot over medium heat. Toss beef with flour and season with salt and pepper. Add to the pot and brown very well on all sides -- this will take 10 minutes or so. You're building flavor here, so don't rush the browning process. Your ear can tell you when it is time to turn the meat as it will cook slightly quieter when it is ready to be turned. Once well browned, remove meat from pot and set aside. There should be enough fat that remains in the pot to brown the vegetables, but add a bit more oil if needed. Start by adding the onions. After 5 minutes, add the carrots and celery then a few minutes later, add the garlic. Add the thyme and the wine. Use a wood spoon to lift any brown bits from the bottom and sides of the pan -- the wine will be great help in releasing all these flavor-filled bits. Add the tomato paste.
Crumble the stock cube into the pot and then add the boiling water and bay leaf. If you are using broth instead of the stock cube, you might want to add some salt and pepper at this point. Add beef back to the pot. Set temperature to lowest, cover and simmer for 2 hours. Check in on the stew every now and again to be sure it's staying a soft simmer. Add frozen peas and cook for 10 minutes.
Serve stew over or beside mashed potatoes.