I posted about some delicious Beef Stew I made a while back, the one slow braised in a dutch oven? Well, I made it again last night (Yes, it's that good!) and I thought I'd do a step-by-step for it, as I haven't done one in a while.
As before, the recipe I started with is here: Beef Stew Recipe! I modify it, taking out some of the meat, and adding in celery and mushrooms, because I like them! It's actually fairly easy to modify a stew or soup and add your own ingredients, so feel free to go for it!
Anyhoo, first things first, preheat your oven to 325 degrees, chop up your onions and mushrooms, and smash your garlic! If you haven't done it before, you can smash garlic easily by setting a clove on your cutting board, laying the flat of your blade across it and hitting it hard with the heel of your hand. Don't cut yourself, and expect your clove to occasionally shoot out from under the knife and fly across the room!
Cut up your meat into 1inch to 1-1/2 inch pieces, and season them on top and bottom with salt and pepper. Start heating your dutch oven on the stove; it will take time to heat up! Also, read the instructions for your dutch oven. If it's like mine, you can't use it on the stove over medium heat as it can damage it. But cast iron holds and distributes heat so well that medium is plenty high!
Add a tablespoon of your cooking oil to the pot, let it heat up, and start your first batch of meat! You want it to get very, very dark brown and crusty before you turn it over, and do the same to the other side.
I know what you're thinking. Omg, it's sticking! Omg, it's getting crusty stuff on the bottom! Omg, it's gonna burn, I need more oil! NO. You WANT that brown crustyness on the bottom. That's flavor developing there, and we'll get to that later. Also, too much oil and you won't get a good sear on the meat. And those of you who think you can do all the meat at once to save time? That won't work either- instead of searing, the meat will just steam and won't ever get brown and delicious.
Like one of my favorite chef's Anne Burrell says "Brown food tastes GOOD!"
So sear your meat in batches adding another tablespoon of oil with each batch if it needs, get it good and brown and delicious, and remove it all to a pan. It'll be oozing bloody juices and still look raw on the unseared sides, that's normal. Searing the meat is the most actively time consuming part of the stew, but it's where a lot of the flavors come from, so take your time with it!
Once you've got all your meat done, next up is to toss your big ol' bowl of mushrooms, onions, and garlic into the dutch oven. This is where all your brown crustiness that's built up from searing the meat comes in! Take your balsamic vinegar and splash it in there, stirring the veggies and scraping the bottom of the dutch oven. This is called deglazing- The balsamic vinegar will loosen all that flavorfull crust up from the bottom so it can get all dissolved and mixed into the broth! This is one of those chefy techniques that builds a lot of flavor into dishes.
Also, -stand back- when you put the vinegar in, or you will get a face full of hot balsamic vinegar fumes, and it will be painful to breathe!
Cook this goodness together, making sure to scrape all those browney bits up for about 5 minutes. (You ARE using a wooden or other non-stick safe spoon right? Wouldn't want to damage the enamel on that expensive cookware!) Add in the 1-1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste, stir it in and let it cook another 5 minutes.
Don't want to open an entire can of tomato paste just for 1 tablespoons? Look for tomato paste in a tube! You can use just what you need, and toss the tube back in the fridge until you need it again! I found it at Wal-mart and it was fairly inexpensive.
Add the meat and juices back in, then sprinkle with the 1/4 cup of flour, stirring until it's well mixed and dissolved, about 1-2 minutes. Then pour in your wine, beef broth, and water, and add your bay leaves, thyme and sugar. Give it another good stir right up from the bottom, pop the lid on and carefully transfer it to your oven! (It is cast iron, regardless of enamel, and it will be very hot and very heavy!)
And wait. For at least two hours.
Why so long? It's braising, which means to cook low and slow in broth. Basically, it's a pot roast, just in a stewey packaging! The time and low temperature will break down the connective tissues in the meat, resulting in very tender meat and a lot of deep, rich flavors. That's why you have to get meat that's well marbled with fat- no connective tissues, no breaking down, still tough lump of muscle!
Anyway, use those 2 hours to dice up the rest of your veggies. I usually chop them right after getting the stew in the oven, that way I can toddle off and work on art or something, undisturbed.
After two hours, your house should now smell delicious! Also, your meat should be getting good and tender. Carefully take the dutch oven out, take the lid off and after you recover from the blast of delicious smelling steam that will escape, stir in your veggies. If the handles on the dutch oven weren't hot before, they WILL be now, so seriously, be careful.
Put the lid back on, put it back in the oven, and let it cook at least another hour until the veggies are at your preferred done-ness. Mine usually takes over an hour.
Once it fully cooked, you have two choices: Discard your bay leaves, and then either eat as is, or add in cornstarch to thicken it first. Matt despises anything soupy, so I usually add cornstarch in water to make the broth more of a gravy.
The completed stew, ready to eat!
And there you go!, Super easy, lots of deep, rich flavors, and enough for several meals! Pair this with some fresh baked bread (Pillsbury has an italian loaf in a tube I bake while I'm thickening the stew and letting it cool to a non-magma temperature) and top with a little chopped fresh parsley for looks.
It's so easy even a barbarian can make it!