We had a wonderful, beautiful, sunny, 55+ degree Saturday last week. It was lovely. Now it’s cold again, although at least it’s normal winter cold (lows in the 10s, highs in the 20-30s) and not stupidly absurdly cold, and the snow almost all melted. I can deal with this.
But even normal winter likes nice warm cozy food. Therefore, stew. You can make stew out of just about anything: beef, lamb, veal, venison, goat. I guess I probably wouldn’t make stew out of chicken or fish, because I have better things to do with those.
So anyway, you start with some vegetables. I always include an onion and some carrots. This time I also put in some celery, half a sweet potato, and one very small sad turnip (you might also use parsnip, celery root, rutabaga, potatoes, etc.) – all chopped into bite-sized pieces:
The onions and celery are separate from the carrots and other stuff because they’re going to go into the pot first. These are what we call “aromatics” – things we cook first to make their flavor wonderful. The other ones will go in later.
Then you’ll need some stew meat. I used lamb, because I had a small package of lamb stew meat from my local butcher. You can buy your stew meat pre-cut, or you can buy a larger cut and cut it up yourself. You don’t need tender cuts for this – stewing as a technique works best on tougher cuts with more connective tissue.
Mix up a handful of flour, salt and pepper:
Then dredge (also known as “toss” or “push your meat pieces around until covered”) your meat in the flour mixture. You want them all nicely covered, but not with giant lumps of flour attached. They should look like this:
Great! Set that aside for a few minutes. (Out of reach of cats, dogs, small children, etc.)
Apply your favorite soup pot to the stove. (The pot I’m using here was overkill for this batch of stew.) Put a blob of your favorite cooking fat into the pot – you might use vegetable oil, shortening, lard, or – my favorite – bacon grease! You don’t want to use butter or olive oil, though – they’ll burn at the temperature you need them.
Get it good and hot:
And then toss in your meat pieces:
Brown them on one side (1-2 minutes) and then turn the pieces over and brown the other side:
Om nom. Some of the flour mixture will stick to the bottom of the pan and get all tasty and brown. You want this!
When your meat bits are browned, take them out and set them aside for another minute. (Continue to keep out of reach of dogs, cats, small children, etc.)
Add your aromatics (onion, celery, garlic, etc.) to the pot and stir them around for a while:
You want them to get a bit cooked but not browned, and do your best to start scraping up the tasty browned bits from the bottom of the pan:
Then throw in your other veggies:
I added my herbs at this point (rosemary and marjoram):
And then you’ll wanna toss your meat back in:
And enough broth to cover everything:
While that’s coming up to a boil, add in some other seasonings. Most red-meat stews can benefit from a bit of tomato paste:
(Yes, I use my knife to get tomato paste from the can. I also use my knife to get minced garlic, stock concentrate, and many other things out of jars. I don’t want to get a bunch of spoons dirty.)
Now, stew is extremely flexible, but runs the risk of being exceptionally bland. So add in your favorite seasonings. Salt and pepper are mandatory. My standard additions are A1 Steak Sauce (I don’t put it on steak, only in stew and pot roast) and worcestershire. You could also add a bit of a seasoning blend (like a steak seasoning or Mrs. Dash), or a bunch of herbs like tarragon, chervil, savory, thyme, etc. Goat in particular lends itself to some crazy seasonings like Jamaican jerk. My rule of thumb is that if it smells good with the flavors already in your kitchen from getting you this far, it’ll probably be tasty. A teaspoon total is a good measure for dried herbs and spices, a tablespoon each for any liquid flavorings – use these as starting points and adjust from there.
Stir it all together, bring it to a boil, and then turn down the heat and put a lid on it. You want to let this stuff go for a while – probably around an hour if not more. A few really cool things happen in this time. The flour that mixed in with the fat when you browned the meat formed something akin to a roux, which during this time will thicken your stew into a nice rich texture. The connective tissue in the meat will melt away, which makes the meat super-tender while making the stew even more rich in texture. The flavors meld together (the tomato paste in particular, which almost vanishes and just leaves a subtle depth), the onions and carrots become lovely and sweet, and everything mellows out.
Incidentally, you can also make this whole thing in a crockpot. Do everything exactly as described above, but switch to a crockpot after you cook up your onions and celery, and let it go on low for 8-10+ hours.
You can also make this recipe in larger quantities. Just use more of everything. It keeps well for leftovers and also freezes pretty well, so it’s a good option to make a bunch of.
Either way, when you get to where you want to be, it’ll look about like this:
Except hopefully you chose a more appropriately-sized pot than I did.
I forgot to take a picture of it in a bowl, so let’s just pretend that you have a lovely photo here with a few sprigs of fresh herbs (that came from ??? because my herb garden froze over months ago) and some nice toasted french bread. Or something.
Also, in case you’re wondering, I no longer have a vegetarian in the house. Just so you don’t think I’m being a giant jerkface here.