Search This Blog

Friday, September 30, 2011

British Stew

OK, so – as I've said already – there is no particular significance to my starting off with this particular dish.  It's just where I started.

It's autumn, my favourite season btw, and it's starting to get cooler, so I've been craving more and more hearty and/or warming food.  I've had a thing of cheap stewing beef in the freezer for about a month now, in anticipation of making some stew one of these days...

So, today being Friday, and the day only getting up to about 16 degrees, I figured it would be a good day to stew some stuff.

I personally find stew a viable medium for ingesting a plethora of vegetables.  Vegetables I may not even really love on a regular basis.  The reason should be plain – when you stew something – anything – for like 6 or 7 hours in some beefy-fatty-wine, it's not only going to taste freaking awesome, but generally be soft to the point of almost pre-digestion.

However, my wife – being of British descent, and of seriously normal levels of tolerance on any given day – is extremely finicky about her stew.  So... I could not include much else than potatoes and carrots (for the large stuff).  I can sneak in a fair bit of onion and garlic and peppers, given their diced demeanour.

So, therefore we have a humble, but hearty and healthy, British Beef Stew.  Slow-cooked, and relatively low-fat.

First, I like to assemble, wash, and trim all my produce.  Here are all my washed veggies, laid out on my cutting surface:

All the veggies...
And, to delineate them according to quantity (roughly, sorry) here they are listed in order of representation (in terms of amounts in the stew, but also, coincidentally, in terms of appreciation by my wife!):

Cubed Beef
White Onion
Green Onion

As with all things,I didn't want to start actualy chpping these suckers too soon before they were needed, lest they oxidize prematurely.  So, there they sat for a little while, as I prepared the beef.

The spices, for your information, were simple with this.  Again, in order of quantity, they are bay leaves, rosemary, fennel, cinnamon, black peppercorns, and sea salt.  Really it was mostly rosemary and bay (to dominate) with just a little bit of everything else (to complement).  Everything was dried (if I had had the foresight, some fresh rosemary would have been nice) and everything save the bay and cinnamon were ground finely in my mortar and pestle.

The bay and cinnamon are only in for the stewing and will be coming OUT before consumption. And, call me neurotic, but I make sure to count how many bay leaves and cinnamon sticks I'm putting in, so that I am sure I get them all later (see: wife's finicky stew preference.)

Anyway, the meat.  As I said earlier, this beef was frozen, which I'm sure many will lament, but whatever, it's stew...  In fact, it afforded an interesting possibility, and I opted to leave the pieces a little frozen still, for a reason I'll mention in a little bit.

Although I have a pretty nice butcher's block in my kitchen, I still like to use a separate cutting surface for preparing meat.  So, out comes the plastic cutting board.

I cube the beef  into arguably small pieces which makes it harder and more time-consuming to brown them, but allows for a larger beef-to-other-ingredients ratio in terms of your average spoonful.

Once cubed, I coated them in a mixture of mostly flour that had a pinch of my dried, ground spices.
Coating them lightly, and shaking off the excess, I then brown them in my preheated (medium-high heat), heavy-bottomed pan (my NON-non-stick Jamie Oliver T-fal, btw, don't you feel jealous?)
which has just a splash of olive oil.  Flavoured olive oil of my own creation, but it is mostly the flavours which we're putting in the stew anyway, so no worries about conflicting flavours.  Because these pieces were slightly (I say slightly, they weren't rock-hard or anything) frozen still, it made it easier to sear the outsides while leaving the interior nice and raw still – which is good for stew, right? - locking up the exterior while leaving interior moist and tender.  I browned them in batches (three actually) because it's important not to crowd them.

While the beef is browning in batches, I diced the onions, garlic, and peppers finely, and I'm sure what I call diced, many people would refer to as minced.  Peppers also had their interiors removed (with seeds).


Anyway, once browned, I transferred the beef right into my cooker pot.

The gribblies of beef and floury-spices left in my non-non-stick pan were truly marvelous!

Now, in many cases it is preferable to just add all your ingredients to this pan, cover it up tightly, and plop it in the oven (hence the heavy-bottom, oven-safe pan), but because I want to use the slow-cooker, I'm going to proceed with an elaborate (but wholly elegant) plan to successively deglaze the pan while at the same time saute the vegetables.

It is absolutely imperative that you get every last speck of that good stuff (sucs) back into your stew.  So, firstly, we're going to add another healthy splash of olive oil, throw in my onion, garlic, and peppers in order of needing most softening.  So in this case, white onion, green onion, garlic, and peppers. 

Anyway, keep the heat at roughly medium... medium-low if you're slow on getting those ingredients in the pan and grab a really good, stiff metal (hence the non-non-stick pan) whisk and start scraping the mixture very well, making certain to get the sides and bottom of the pan.

It comes off really easily provided you have enough solvent for it (oil in this case).

Once the veggies are softened and slightly browned, transfer them on into the cooker pot.

Because I am a deglazing nazi, I still have two more deglazing steps.  First is the stock.  Rather than just add my beef broth (I'm using non-fat consommé btw, which is essentially a more condensed version of beef broth, so just add more water after) to the cook pot directly, I'll throw half in the pan, and whisk it about, scraping the sides.

Pour that into the cooker pot when done.  Lastly, after I've turned my heat down to low, I throw in my wine (which in this case, was some leftover Malbec which the wife and I had opened a night or two earlier) and do the same whisking/deglazing action.  You can see that there was some decent amount of flavour left in there still at that point.

Into the cooker it all goes.  Followed by the carrots and potatoes, which if size of my slow-cooker was NOT an issue, would stay relatively medium-sized.  However, because said pot is  not all that big, and because I like to be able to stir my stew without it all falling out and burning my feet, or my underfoot cat, the pieces were small-ish.  This is NOT ideal, because potatoes can really fall apart on you if you're not careful... regardless, I've developed great care in stirring my stews, in order to avoid dilapidated potatoes and also broken bay leaves, so it's all good.

Once everything is all in there safely, top the whole thing up with water.  My cookpot was not too big, so I am not in any danger of diluting my mixture.  In fact, because I used consommé, it was expected that I top it up with a fair bit of water.  However, if you're going to be using a larger pot, try and moderate your water addition with your existing liquids and flavours.  If you have diluted it... some more salt added will work in a pinch, but you may need to throw in some more wine (or any alcohol for that matter) or even a bouilllon cube (which, incidentally, I would have used had I not had a can of consommé in the pantry).

Thickening is optional, and usually to preference, but I like it fairly thick.  If you're going to freeze some or all of this, it is recommended you use tapioca, but I use corn starch.  I'm sure there is a science to adding a thickening agent... with a formula based on total amount of liquid, temperature, etc. but I just throw it in in batches until it gets to where I like it.  Often this involves erring on the side of thin until the stew is almost done, at which point I'll add some more.  As with all thickening of soups, sauces, stews, add it to a liquid first, and get it fully dissolved before adding to your hot liquid.

I also added my spices at this point, just make sure they'd get evenly distributed in the liquid.

So... it's done.  This is the part I like the most, it's ready to be put in the slow-cooker and essentially forgotten for several hours (in today's case 6 or 7!!!)

I might normally make some buns or biscuits or something – my wife introduced me to the notion of yorkshire pudding with my stew once, and ever since then I've appreciated a nice trencher of bread-product to accompany my stews – but today I'm going to serve it with a hunk of fresh bread (well... fresh as of last night) that I baked the night before.  Be certain to break the bread “in the peasant fashion” rather than slice it.

Finished stew which wife says "needs to be in my mouth":



  1. looks good enough to eat

  2. nothing beats a warm and hearty stew!! I have always added turnip ...cut in smaller pieces than the potatoes so as to be easily identified and left piled on the plates of "fussy" eaters. I admire the "from scratch" broth rather than the more convenient store bought, salty, vegetable broth.
    Love the pictures ... very organized kitchen!!

  3. Yes, I agree that a "from scratch" broth is better than commercial broth for sure. However, the only stock I had on hand was chicken. I don't really roast beef very much, but I'll have to remember to make some stock the next time I do.