Beef stew follows a fairly basic formula: Brown the meat, add some liquid, vegetables and seasonings, and let the whole thing simmer until the meat is tender. After you master the method, there are zillions of ways to vary a recipe. Here are five steps to take when creating your own beef stew.
1. Pick the cut of beef. Those tough and often fatty cuts of meat you would never, ever grill? That’s generally what’s best for stew. Stewing is slow-cooking in liquid, which melts the fat and breaks down the connective tissue, resulting in tender meat. Precut stew meat is usually cut from the chuck (part of the shoulder) and the more well-marbled it is, the more luscious your stew will be. If you want an especially rich stew (and don’t mind a slight splurge), use short-ribs instead of chuck.
2. Choose your vegetables. Most beef stews have onions and carrots. The French also add mushrooms, while the Americans often add potatoes, but there’s no need to stop there. Try adding any other sturdy vegetables you find at the farmers’ markets, like butternut squash, turnips or celery root. Another choice you need to make? When to add the vegetables. In rustic stews, the vegetables are simmered with the meat, infusing them with lots of flavor but rendering them quite soft. Many chefs, however, like to cook the vegetables separately and add them toward the end so they keep their vibrant colors and don’t get mushy. If you ever want to include delicate vegetables, like peas, definitely add them just before serving.