Best Beef Stew
Serves 6 to 8
Use a good-quality medium-bodied wine, such as a Cotes du Rhone or pinot noir, for this stew. Try to find beef that is well marbled with white veins of fat. Meat that is too lean will come out slightly dry. Look for salt pork that is roughly 75 percent lean.
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 (4-pound) boneless beef chuck-eye roast, pulled apart at seams, trimmed, and cut into 1 1/2‑inch pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced 1/8 inch thick
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1‑inch pieces
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups red wine
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 ounces salt pork, rinsed
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1‑inch pieces
1 1/2 cups frozen pearl onions, thawed
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup water
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
Salt and pepper
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine garlic and anchovies in small bowl; press with back of fork to form paste. Stir in tomato paste and set aside.
2. Pat meat dry with paper towels. (Do not season.) Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in Dutch oven over high heat until just starting to smoke. Add half of beef and cook until well browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer beef to large plate. Repeat with remaining beef and remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, leaving second batch of meat in pot after browning.
3. Reduce heat to medium and return first batch of beef to pot. Add onion and carrots to Dutch oven and stir to combine with beef. Cook, scraping bottom of pot to loosen any browned bits, until onion is softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until no dry flour remains, about 30 seconds.
4. Slowly add wine, scraping bottom of pot to loosen any browned bits. Increase heat to high and allow wine to simmer until thickened and slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth, salt pork, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring to simmer, cover, transfer to oven, and cook for 1 1/2 hours.
5. Remove pot from oven; remove and discard bay leaves and salt pork. Stir in potatoes, cover, return to oven, and cook until potatoes are almost tender, about 45 minutes.
6. Using large spoon, skim any excess fat from surface of stew. Stir in pearl onions; cook over medium heat until potatoes and onions are cooked through and meat offers little resistance when poked with fork (meat should not be falling apart), about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatin over water in small bowl and let sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes.
7. Increase heat to high, stir in softened gelatin mixture and peas; simmer until gelatin is fully dissolved and stew is thickened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste; serve.
Why This Recipe Works
This recipe uses evenly cut chunks of chuck-eye roast — one of the cheapest, beefiest cuts in the supermarket — which we brown and gently simmer in a rich broth. We flavor this broth with glutamate-rich ingredients like salt pork and tomato paste, and thicken it with gelatin. Beef and anchovies are also a good source of nucleotides that work synergistically with glutamates.
Cut Your Own Meat
Using packaged “stew meat” from the supermarket is a nonstarter here; the jumble of scraggly bits and large chunks from all over the cow (some of which are too lean to be stewed) is impossible to cook evenly. We prefer chuck-eye roast, which can turn meltingly tender when properly cooked. To ensure consistent texture and flavor, trim and cut the meat yourself. First, pull apart the roast at its major seams (marked by lines of fat and silverskin). Then, with a sharp chef’s knife or boning knife, trim off the thick layers of fat and silverskin. Slice the meat into even, stew-ready chunks.
We build flavor a number of ways in this stew — from browning to using glutamate- and nucleotide-rich ingredients in the sauce. We also sauté the aromatics. Caramelizing the onion and carrots (rather than just adding them raw to the broth, as many other recipes suggest) helps to start the stew off with as much flavor as possible. We like to leave the meat in the pot while the vegetables sauté, as the residual heat helps the vegetables to cook faster and more evenly.
Fish for Meatier Flavor
To boost meaty flavor in food, we often add ingredients high in glutamate. This common amino acid is the building block for MSG and occurs naturally in foods from mushrooms to cheese, tomatoes, and fish. Thus it wasn’t exactly a surprise that the addition of two such glutamate-rich ingredients — tomato paste and salt pork — to our beef stew intensified its savory taste. But when we added a third ingredient, anchovies, the beefy flavor seemed to increase exponentially. This is because anchovies also contain compounds called nucleotides, which scientists have found to have a synergistic effect on glutamate, heightening its meaty taste 20- to 30-fold.
Stagger the Vegetables
We stagger the addition of vegetables to the stew in order to prevent overcooking. Medium-starch Yukon Gold potatoes, which aren’t as starchy as russets and therefore won’t break down too easily and turn the stew grainy, are added 1 1/2 hours into the stewing time. Pearl onions are added 45 minutes later, and a handful of frozen peas are added at the very end.
From The Science of Good Cooking (Cook’s Illustrated Cookbooks) by Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. Copyright 2012 by the Editors at America’s Test Kitchen. Excerpted by permission of Cook’s Illustrated.