The table as the gravitational center of our lives.

Classic Beef Stew

“If things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew, just go right along and you’ll start happening too.” -Dr. Seuss, pseudonym of American writer/illustrator Theodor Seuss Geisel, writer of (hands, like, totally down) my most beloved and revered children’s books ever in the history of…..ever

First of all, I’d like to wish all of my readers an amazing New Year.  I’ve been extremely humbled in 2009 by the amazing response and acknowledgement to RadioGastronomy, especially by the respected and admired likes of Tastespotting, Saveur Magazine, and Viking Appliances.  (Once I can afford you, Viking, you will be mine.  Oh yes, you will be mine.)  I continue to learn so much every day about cooking, about passion, about creativity, and about myself.  My best hope would be to share it all with just one person, but I am blessed to share what I can with so many.  Thank you for your support, and I look forward to this New Year and decade!

*Wipes tear away* OK, where were we then?  Ahh, yes, beef stew.

Basically…’s frickin’ cold out, y’all.  I was just fortunate enough to spend the Holiday Season in 70-degree Malibu with my OMGSUCHACUTENEWMOM sister Lori and my SRSLYHESADADNOW? brother-in-law Austin and, most importantly of all ever, my brand new nephew TOTALLYGONNABEABRO Luke, future Jedi Knight.  (YAY I’M AN AUNTIE NOW!!!)  But then, tragically, I came back to life and back to reality in Brooklyn and it’s basically Arctic here.  All we need are penguins.  Oh and my heater broke and I froze for 5 days and walked around my house in my bathrobe and a hat, looking like The Dude from The Big Lebowski.  And when that happens, it’s time to cook, because stoves are, after all, generally in the “warm” category.

There is nothing better than a kick-ass slow-cooked meal on a Sunday evening, and this is even more true when you walk outside and it feels like icicles are jabbing you in the face.  And this, above everything I’ve learned at school, seems to be the set of techniques I’ve grabbed onto the most and repeated at home over and over again.  It just really never fails to produce wonderful flavor and texture.  You’ll see this technique over and over again in my recipes (with a few stealthy tweaks here and there, as is strictly appropriate, of course):  sear protein in fat on all sides until little browned bits form at the bottom of the pan, remove protein from pan, add onions, carrots, and celery to pan and sweat, then add wine to deglaze, then add stock/liquid, then boil, then simmer low and slow.  If you can remember that process, people, I’m telling you – things will start to happen in your kitchen.  Good things.

If you’ve ever wanted to tackle a Classic Beef Stew in all its yummy glory, then friends, this is the time to do it.  We’re ditching the lazy, one-button-and-walk slow-cooker method here and doing this dish it’s due propers.  This is some “tender loving care” stuff right here.  And not only that, but long after you’ve made this, eaten it, cleaned the kitchen, and stored the leftovers… just keeps getting better and better.  Come back the next evening for Round 2 and the yummy has leaped to a whole new level.  You’ll see.


For the stew:

Neutrally-flavored oil, such as vegetable or canola

A dinner plate with a nice layer of all-purpose flour on it

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 lbs. beef chuck or stew cubes, roughly 1 1/2″-2″ in size (“grass fed,” if possible)

1 medium onion, washed, peeled, trimmed, and cut into chunks about 1/2″ in size

2 large carrots, washed, peeled, trimmed, and cut into chunks about 1/2″ in size

2 stalks celery, washed, trimmed, and cut into chunks about 1/2″ in size

1/2 cup red wine (something you are willing to drink, please!)

1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes (NOTE:  I really like Muir Glen’s “Fire-Roasted” line for these long simmer-y, braise-y recipes.)

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

About 8 cups of beef stock, chicken stock, or water (in order of best-to-good results, home-made if possible)

4 cloves garlic, washed, crushed, and peeled

2 bay leaves

2 thyme sprigs

Approximately 15-20 black peppercorns

Approximately 10-15 juniper berries

For the garniture:

8 oz. white button mushrooms, rinsed briefly, dried well, peeled, stemmed, and quartered (peels and stems removed)

10 oz. pearl mushrooms, reserved in a bowl of water

About 10-15 gold creamer potates, washed well, halved on the bias, and reserved in a bowl of cold water

4 medium carrots, washed, peeled, and cut into even chunks (about 3/4″ across) on the bias

1/4 cup frozen garden peas

Handful of parsley leaves, washed, dried well, and chopped fine

Neutrally-flavored oil, such as vegetable or canola

3 tbsp. butter

2 tsp. sugar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


1.  First, dredge all of the beef cubes in a light dusting of flour.  You just go one by one, roll each beef cube in the flour, and then clap off the excess.  Reserve dredged meat on a clean plate.  In a large stockpot or Dutch Oven, heat just enough of the neutral oil to coat the bottom of the pan over high flame.  While the pot heats up, season the meat liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  When the pot and oil are nice and hot, sear the beef on all sides, working in batches.  When the meat is nice and brown on all sides, and there are a whole bunch of little brown bits on the bottom of the pan, the meat is ready – remove from the pot with tongs and reserved on a plate lined with paper towel.

2.  Dump any excess oil from the pot and add a layer of fresh oil.  Return pot to the stove over medium-high heat.  When pot is nice and hot, add the onion, carrot, and celery, stirring to coat with the oil.  Sweat the vegetables until the onions are translucent and the mixture is very fragrant.  This process should take about 5-8 minutes.  Turn the heat down if it’s going too fast.  When the vegetables are properly sweated, add the wine, and scrape up all of the bits on the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Cook until the wine has reduced by about 1/2.  Return the meat to the pot, and add the crushed tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, stock or water, bay leaves, thymes, peppercorns, juniper berries, and mushroom peels and stems.  Bring everything to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer, leaving mostly covered at a gentle bubble for about 3-4 hours, or until meat is very tender and moist, and falls apart with light pressure from a fork.

3.  While the mixture bubbles away for half an eternity on the stove, prepare the garniture.  (This is the part that sort of takes a while, but I’ll let you in on a little secret.  You technically COULD throw all of the garniture stuff in the pot about an hour before it’s time is up and have it work out ok, but if you follow it my way and take your time, everything will be cooked really nicely and all of the colors will stay pretty and bright.)  First, carefully peel the pearl onions with a paring knife.  (Reserving them in water for a period of time makes them much easier to peel…..)  Cut off the root end very close to the edge (this helps the onion hold together), and cut off the pointy tip.  Carefully peel off the skin, making sure to remove all of the paper-y layers.  They are sneaky and this process sort of takes some patience.  Reserve peeled pearl onions in a bowl.

4.  Place the potatoes and the water they were reserved in into a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  When water comes to a rapid boil, add a small handful of salt to the water.  Boil for a few minutes, and check with a fork or paring knife.  If either one goes through evenly, the potatoes are done.  Drain through a colander and reserve in a small, dry bowl.

5.  In a medium sauté pan, add pearl onions, 1 tbsp. butter (broken up into a few chunks), 1 tsp. sugar, and a pinch of kosher salt.  Fill pan up with water until water is just under half-way up the sides of the onions.  Place on the stove over medium heat with a lid on top.  When water starts to bubble, set the lid ajar so there is a small opening allowing steam to escape.  Lower flame and allow to bubble away until almost all of the liquid is gone.  When this happens, remove lid and sauté, rolling onions around in the pan until they are a nice yummy brown color.  Reserve in a clean bowl.

6.  Add some fresh oil and butter to the pan, and when melted, add the mushroom quarters and sauté until the mushrooms develop a nice fragrance and a deep brown color, about 8-10 minutes.  Realize that mushrooms absorb a LOT of liquid very quickly, but then release a whole bunch of water in the cooking process.  They’ll get the color they need, you just have to be patient with them and not turn the heat up crazy high.  Reserve the cooked mushrooms on a small plate lined with paper towel.

7.  Wash out the pan and wipe it with a paper towel.  Cook the carrots using exactly the same process as you did for the pearl onions in Step #5, except forget the sauté part.  Just cook until fork tender in the water, butter, sugar, and salt.  Reserve.

8.  When the meat is ready and awesome, strain out the cooking liquid into a large bowl.  Go through the strainer and pick out the meat chunks with tongs, reserving in a bowl.  Discard the remaining solids.  Put the strained cooking liquid back on the stove over high heat and boiling it down until reduced by about a third.  You want a nice, thick, flavorful broth, but not a sauce.  When it gets to this stage, turn off heat, and immediately season to taste with kosher salt.  Add a little bit at a time and taste until you get the flavor you want.  Immediately add the meat, pearl onions, mushrooms, carrots, and frozen peas, and stir gently to combine.  At the very last minute, stir in the chopped parsley.  Serve nice and hot in low, shallow bowls with a big spoon.

Yield: This should keep about 6 people happy on a cold, Sunday night, with extras to spare.  (NOTE:  This stew freezes very well!  To reheat, just defrost, then add about 3-4 tbsp. water and bring up to a nice hot temperature.)

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2 Responses Subscribe to comments

  1. andrea

    Hi, I found your blog from Tastespotting. But where are you featured or mentioned in Saveur or Viking? Your links do not link directly to that information.

    Anyway, your stew looks great and I think I’ll give it a try! Thanks for sharing!!


    Jan 10, 2011 @ 4:16 pm

  2. admin

    Hi Andrea! Welcome! Saveur’s mention can be found here. Viking didn’t feature me on their site, but did invite me to view their new collection at the Food Network studios last year just before the holidays. Quite an honor!

    I try to keep track of all of my press mentions here, just for future reference. Thanks so much for reading!

    Jan 10, 2011 @ 5:07 pm