The days are cooling off, schedules are filling up, and root vegetables are being dug. It’s time for making stews.
Stews are classic make-ahead meals, easily reheated, and one of the best things about them is that they always taste better the day after they are made. That makes them ideal for people who like to take some of the pressure off weeknight meals by doing extra food preparation on the weekend.
Stewing is cooking something — usually a less expensive, tougher cut of meat or poultry — in a flavoured liquid such as stock. It is long, slow, moist heat cooking that tenderizes tough meat and allows rich, mellow flavours and aromas to develop.
Actually, it is often the toughest cuts of meat that are most flavourful. Take, for example, stewing fowl, hens that are — to coin a phrase — not spring chickens any more. The meat is too tough to be edible when roasted, but when stewed until it’s falling-off-the-bone-tender, the flavour is rich and delicious.
Often, meat or poultry being stewed is browned in a little fat before the liquid is added, to caramelize the surfaces, creating even more flavour and adding appealing colour to the meat and the stock.
The usual process is to add some aromatic vegetables, such as onion and garlic, at the beginning, to flavour the cooking liquid, and then add the rest of the vegetables toward the end of the cooking period so that they will maintain a better texture.
Although I usually think of stew as bubbling gently in a Dutch oven on the stovetop, I have also cooked beef stew in the oven. Unlike stovetop stew, which may stick to the bottom of the pan if not stirred occasionally, oven-cooked stew can be left untended for a longer period.
The following recipe calls for peeled baby onions. Peeling them with a paring knife can be tedious. There’s a better way. Plunge them into boiling water, and drain after 30 seconds.
Chill in ice water. Cut off the root end, and pinch the onion to squeeze it from the skin. It still takes time, but is easier than just cutting the skin off.
Red-skinned or Yukon gold potatoes are good choices for stew, because they hold their shape when cooked. Russets are more likely to crumble and break down when cooked this way.
Although stewing beef is less expensive than most roasts or steaks, it is still costly. If you want to use a little less beef in a stew, cut the pieces a bit smaller so that they’ll go farther, and add more vegetables. We all need more vegetables in our meals anyway.
Oven Beef Stew
25 mL (2 tbsp) cooking oil
1 kg (2 lb) stewing beef
50 mL (¼ cup) all purpose flour
500 mL (2 cups) reduced sodium beef broth
50 m (¼ cup) sherry (optional)
375 mL (1 ½ cups) baby onions*
1 kg (2 lb) small red-skinned or Yukon Gold potatoes
500 mL (2 cups) carrots, cut in 1 cm (½ inch) slices
500 mL (2 cups) frozen peas
Cut stewing beef into bite-sized pieces. Heat oil in 30 cm (12 inch) frying pan, and brown the beef chunks. Sprinkle flour over browned beef, tossing lightly to coat. Gradually stir in beef broth and sherry, stirring well after each addition.
Place in 3 litre (3 quart) casserole. Cover and simmer in oven at 160°C (325°F) for 90 minutes.
Just before the 90 minutes is over, prepare the vegetables. Peel baby onions. Scrub potatoes, peel if desired, and cut into bite-sized pieces. Scrub and peel carrots, cut in half lengthwise if large, and cut into 1 cm (½ inch) slices. Measure frozen peas. Add vegetables to stew, stir in, and return to oven for approximately 50 to 60 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
Serve with fresh rolls or biscuits or if you prefer, cover with a biscuit topping (see below) and bake.
* If baby onions are not available, use 1 large onion, cut into small wedges.
Saute wedges in small amount of oil before browning meat, remove from pan, and set aside while browning meat.
Then add sautéed onions to beef in broth before placing casserole in oven.
Biscuit Topping for Stew
425 mL (1 ¾ cups) all purpose flour
1 mL (¼ tsp) salt
20 mL (4 tsp) baking powder
50 mL (¼ cup) butter
175 mL (¾ cup) milk + a few tablespoons more for brushing surface
Mix flour, salt and baking powder. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives, until pieces are about the size of split peas. Stir in the milk to make a slightly sticky dough.
Knead dough a few times on a lightly floured surface and roll it into a piece that will fit the top of the casserole. Score into wedges or squares with a sharp knife, cutting almost through the dough. If preferred, cut the rolled dough into individual biscuits and arrange on top of the stew.
Brush biscuit topping with milk so that it will brown.
Bake at 220°C (425°F) for 20 -30 minutes.