With a blanket of white outside, the days getting shorter and the dark hours noticeably longer, it’s time to think of warm, comforting foods like stewed beef.
I couldn’t be less interested in eating stew in summer when it’s hot, but I look forward to them in the short, colder days of fall and winter.
So, I’ve been doing some experimenting and come up with a couple of very flavourful ways of transforming little chunks of often-tough beef from the less expensive cuts, into a soul-satisfying meal the whole family will love.
Hunters would find these excellent recipes for venison or other game meats too.
I’m a big fan of the slow cooker. I used to cook stews on my wood-fired cookstove when we lived in the Cariboo, so I miss the long, slow cooking that was possible on winter days by just setting the pot on the back of the stove and giving it the occasional stir. The slow cooker fills in now that I’m living downtown and I’m cooking with gas.
Stews demand chunks, so I like to cut my vegetables in decent sizes so they’ll stand up to the long, slow cooking, and I leave mushrooms whole unless they’re really big. Small, whole onions are good too, and whole peppercorns are a spicy addition to stew.
Some of my favourite stews are made with wine or beer, but in both of these I restrained myself although we did have a glass of wine alongside.
Both those stew recipes are included in my new book, Jude’s Kitchen, which is available wherever books are sold. It features a couple of hundred recipes, full colour photos, and an arrangement by the seasons, to help you be inspired by what’s fresh and local. It would make a great gift.
Laredo Beef Stew
This beef stew is full of rich flavour, yet it is an economical meal for a family. It’s easy to prepare by setting aside less than a half hour before and after work to devote to it, if you cook it in a slow cooker, or prepare it and pop it into the oven for a couple of hours. We paired a reasonably-priced VQA red with this, and it was excellent: the Okanagan Vineyards select red, at $7.99 a bottle at the B.C. Wine Museum’s VQA shop. It was so good for that price that we went back and bought a case!
2 lb. (1 kg) beef stew meat
flour, salt & pepper, for dredging
drizzle of oil
1 large onion
2 stalks of celery
3 garlic cloves
7 oz. (200 ml) tomato sauce
3 tbsp. (45 ml) brown sugar
3 tbsp. (45 ml) cider vinegar
1 tbsp. (15 ml) worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. (15 ml) dried oregano
1 tsp. (5 ml) cumin powder
1 tsp. (5 ml) salt
1/2 tsp. (2 ml) pepper
fresh parsley, to garnish
Trim fat from the stew meat, then season it by shaking it with flour, salt and pepper in a bag, bowl or on a cutting mat or large piece of paper. Brown the beef in a drizzle of oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat.
Remove to the slow cooker, if using, or just move beef cubes to the side of the pot. Coarsely chop onion, carrots, celery and mushrooms, if large, and mince garlic.
Add chopped onions to the middle of the pot and cook and stir until beginning to soften. Add remaining vegetables and minced garlic, stirring and cooking for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients except parsley and then add, stirring into the vegetables and meat, if cooking in that pot. Otherwise just pour the vegetable and and tomato sauce mixture over the meat into the slow cooker. Cook on low for 8-10 hours without lifting the lid.
If not using a slow cooker, bring the stew to bubbling, then cook in a 350 F oven for a couple of hours until the vegetables and meat are tender.
Garnish with fresh chopped parsley when serving.
Caribbean Beef Stew
This is rich and thick and exotic-tasting; excellent served with brown rice. This can be made in the oven or in a slow cooker. A green vegetable, such as beans, broccoli or bok choy, is good served alongside this dish.
2 lb. (1 kg) stew beef
flour, salt & pepper, for dredging
drizzle of oil
1 lg. onion
2 celery stalks
1 clove of garlic
2 tbsp. (30 ml) sesame seeds
1 c. (250 ml) water
1/4 c. (60 ml) soy sauce
2 tbsp. (30 ml) molasses
2 tbsp. (30 ml) cider vinegar
1/4 tsp. (1 ml) cayenne pepper
2 tbsp. (30 ml) cornstarch
1/4 c. ( 60 ml) cold water
Trim fat from stew beef.
Combine flour, salt and pepper and dredge stew beef in it, either in a bag, a bowl or on a large piece of paper.
Chop onion, carrots and celery, mince garlic and toast sesame seeds.
Heat a drizzle of oil in a large, oven-safe pot or Dutch oven and brown beef over medium-high heat.
Push it to the side and add the onions to the middle, turning the heat down to medium and stirring for a few minutes until they begin to soften.
Meanwhile combine remaining ingredients, except cornstarch mixture.
Pour this gradually over the meat and onions, stirring to remove any brown bits stuck to the pot.
Cover and cook in a 350 F oven for 2 hours, or put it all into a slow cooker, cover and set to low for 6 to 8 hours.
When the meat is tender, combine cornstarch with cold water in a small bowl and stir until it’s dissolved.
Stir it into the bubbling liquid in the stew until well-blended, then cover and cook for a few minutes longer.
Stir until thickened and smooth, and serve over brown rice, pasta or potatoes.