Officially, spring started over a month ago. However, in Toronto, my home base, you wouldn’t really know. It has been rainy, windy and just generally cold. Last Sunday was no exception. I was going to have a few friends over to watch the latest Game of Thrones episode and wanted to serve something that would sooth not only the chills from the episode but also from the ghastly weather outside. So I returned to a classic: The Sunday Beef Stew.
A beef stew to cap off the weekend is a beautiful thing. You can easily make food for a mid-size group of people and get rid of some leftover produce from the previous week. One of my favourite stews is Julia Child’s, Beef Bourguignon. But since my partner raised the point that it does not contain enough vegetables, I developed a different and slightly more vegetable-enriched beef stew that is infinitely customizable.
Beef Stew Recipe
In this recipe, I am going to give you the basic stew, with a few additions I made last Sunday. If you like different root vegetables, replace the carrots with parsnips. Use yams instead of potatoes. Add celery if you think it needs it (Spoiler: it does not). Use different mushrooms, or a different protein, the world is your oyster. Let’s get cooking.
3 pounds of stewing beef (preferably beef chuck)
2 yellow onions, chopped into 1-inch chunks
8 cloves of garlic, peeled and hand-crushed
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
2 tablespoons of Aceto Balsamico
65g of all-purpose flour (1/4 cup)
500ml of red wine (preferably dry, but it’s dealer’s choice)
500ml of beef broth
500ml of water
2 dried bay leaves
1.5 teaspoons of sugar
1 tablespoon of dried thyme
1 pound of small potatoes (I prefer fingerling), cut in half
4 carrots, cut in the oblique-style – one-inch chunks
half a pound of white button mushrooms, whole
a cup of frozen peas
- Preheat your oven to 165°C (325°F). Make sure the beef chunks are close to room temperature, then pat them dry and season generously with salt and pepper.
- As always with stews, you want to use a heavy-bottomed pot. For the amounts in this recipe, I used my 8.5-quart dutch oven. Over medium-high heat, cover the bottom of your pot with olive oil and wait until it starts to shimmer. At this point, resist the urge to rush. Stews are a delicate and slow art. Brown your stewing beef in batches in order to achieve some Maillard reaction (dark brown crust.) For 3 pounds of beef, I would do this in at least three batches. Every time, cover the bottom of the pot with olive oil again. Set the beef aside for later.
- Add your onions, garlic and balsamic vinegar into some of the remaining fat. Lower the heat to a medium and stir frequently until the onions have softened nicely. Any brown or seemingly burnt bits clinging to the bottom of the pan should be able to be scraped off. You can add a little more balsamic if you think you need it.
- Once the onions have softened, add the tomato paste and cook it out for roughly 2 minutes. The colour of the paste should gradually change from a bright red to a rusty red-brown. Add the beef and its juices back into the mix and sprinkle everything with the flour. Stir your pot thoroughly for a minute in order for the flour to dissolve.
- Add the wine, broth, water, bay leaf, sugar and thyme and bring everything to a boil. Once it bubbles more ferociously, put on a lid and transfer your stew into the oven. Let it braise in the oven for 2 hours.
- After two hours, remove the stew from the oven and add the carrots and potatoes. Make sure that especially the potatoes are fully covered by the stewing liquid. Put the pot back into the oven for another hour.
- Optional: 15 minutes before your alarm is supposed to go off, heat some butter over medium heat in a frying pan. Add your (cleaned) mushrooms whole and sauté until nice and brown (5-7 minutes). If you have some fresh thyme, add that to your mushrooms pan too, since there is no better marriage in the culinary arts than butter, thyme and mushrooms. Remove the pot from the oven, add the mushrooms and a cup of frozen peas, stir and put back into the oven for another 10-15 minutes.
- Once the time is up, check the viscosity of your sauce, the tenderness of the meat and vegetables, as well as the seasoning. Adjust if necessary. If you are content with the result, let the stew settle for a few minutes outside of the oven and then serve with some nice country bread. Enjoy!
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