Thursday, January 2, 2014

Beef Stew

Baby, It's Cold Outside by James Taylor & Natalie Cole
Why has this song been designated as a Christmas song?  There's not one word about the holidays in it.  It's simply a romantic winter time song.  And, going on the level of my love of this particular recording, I think it should be heard all winter long!  Because it IS cold outside and this song warms the heart.  It's a perfectly nice song!

When it's looking like this outside:
hopefully you have some of this bubbling on the stove!
Good old-fashioned Beef Stew!

Every time I make it I am forced to make an account
of my cooking "life history."
I find myself wondering just how it is that
I missed out on all the learning there was to be
done in the kitchen of two great cooks - my mother and father.
I spent a GREAT deal of time in our kitchen.
I  heard "the talk" about how you
need that "good stuff" that accumulates 
on the bottom of the pan - how that's
where the real flavor is.
In one ear and out the other, I suppose.

In my defense, it was probably due to the fact
that I wasn't actually "doing" the steps
where the "good stuff" or "fond" is created.
I was pretty much relegated to the 
peeling and chopping station - and with nine children, 
that's a pretty hefty time commitment!
I have found I'm a very strong
kinesthetic learner.
Once I do something, it's in there and I'm good.

"What's a fond?", you might be asking.
Well, it's that glorious build up of ingredients on
the bottom of the pan while you're browning meats
and vegetables.
See that?
I did that on purpose! (Now that I know what it's about!)
The trick is to get it as deep brown as you can
without letting it get black.
And it's the key to marvelous flavor!
It's the "good stuff" on the bottom of the
pan that I remember my parents talking about.

I have always used the recipe for 
Old-Fashioned Beef Stew out of
my Better Homes and Garden cookbook.
I was always lucky that it turned out
and was one of the dishes my family
seemed to enjoy the most.
But I cheated.
Yep, I'm a cheater!

You see, there's no talk in that recipe about creating
fond on the bottom of the pan.
Not one word about scraping up
the inevitable build up of goodness
as the meat is browned.
Yet every picture of Beef Stew
I'd ever seen showed this gorgeous dark
gravy-like broth.
Mine was brown - but not luxuriously dark brown!
So I added a product called "Kitchen Bouquet."

I bought bottled fond!

Because I didn't know!
I didn't understand!

Since finishing culinary school,
my Beef Stew hasn't had a drop of
Kitchen Bouquet.
I make my own now.
And, guess what?
It's so much better than the cheater version!

As I'm working that flavor back
up from the bottom of the pan - called deglazing - 
I always hear my dad saying
"That's the good stuff, right there.
That's where all the flavor is."
And I know he is smiling up there 
in heaven - probably relieved that
the girl has finally got it!

I have made so many modifications 
to the recipe in the BH&G book 
that I feel comfortable calling this my own.

Beef Stew
serves 6 - 8
1 1/2 - 2 lbs beef, I use bottom round steak or London broil
2 T. olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. black pepper
2 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. red wine (optional)
1 qt. beef stock
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
1/2 t. paprika
pinch of ground cloves
3 - 4 carrots, peeled and cut up
3 russet potatoes, peeled and cut up
1/4 c. water
3 T. all-purpose flour
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the beef into 1 1/2" cubes and pat dry with a paper towel.  Season with a sprinkling of kosher salt.  Set aside.

In a large pot, heat half the olive oil over medium high heat.  When the oil starts to "shimmy" add half the beef cubes.  It should sizzle when they hit the pan.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cubes are browned on the outside.  Remove the cubes to a pan with sides, like a cookie sheet (with sides to catch the released juices), and brown the remaining cubes of beef, adding more oil if necessary.  Once they are browned, add to the pan holding the cubes from the first batch and set aside.  There should be the beginning of a build up of fond on the bottom of the pan.

Add the remaining olive oil to the pan and add the onion and celery.  Stir to coat with the oil and cook until softened - about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle the 2 T. of all-purpose flour over the top of the vegetables.  Stir to coat - they will look a little fuzzy.  Continue to cook for 2 - 3 minutes, stirring frequently, to cook off the raw flavor of the flour - adding to that build-up on the pan, taking care it doesn't burn.

At this point, add the red wine to deglaze and bring that fond up off the bottom of the pan.  After you add the wine, take a wooden spoon and start scraping it up.  The acid in the wine helps make this process very easy!  Be sure to get it all!  The stock can deglaze as well, if you prefer not to add the wine.  But it's important to get all that goodness up from the bottom.  Once the pan is deglazed, add the stock and return the browned beef cubes to the pan as well, being sure to add all the drippings that accumulated in the pan while they waited!

Add the Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves, paprika, and cloves to the pan.  Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Cover the pot, and let simmer for 1 1/2 - 2 hours.

After it has simmered and the meat is tender, add the chopped potatoes and carrots.  Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes and carrots are fork tender - about 20 minutes.

Place the 1/4 c. water in a shaker or a jar with a lid and add the 3 T. flour.  Shake until well blended.  Bring the stew to a boil, and stir the flour mixture in.  Continue stirring for a couple minutes as the broth thickens.

Remove the bay leaves and season to taste with salt and pepper.  It's now ready to serve!


  1. I found your blog through becca :) We made this tonight and it was delicious!!! My husband was full after the first bowl and still went back for a little more :)

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by! I'm glad you enjoyed the stew! As it just so happens, we had the leftovers tonight for dinner and my husband proclaimed it even better than the first time! And this from a "no leftover" eater! We have always loved this stew and I'm glad your family enjoyed it as well!

  2. We made this today and it was fabulous! Perfect meal for a cold, wintery day. Thanks!