Thursday, September 26, 2013

Stew Season!

Good evening everyone! Anyone who does a lot of cooking at home has likely found they eventually reach a point with a given dish that they no longer need a recipe. Perhaps you’ve tried so many variants of roasted chicken that you can simply recreate your favorite from memory, or maybe you’re so well versed in the world of burritos that you simply create your own on the fly – whatever the dish, experience has given you a foundation in which to become creative and confident in your culinary ability.

For me, that dish is the wide world of soups and stews. I’ve tried so many variants of classic soups and stews that I no longer turn to a cookbook to create my own warming fall treat. Instead, I stand in the kitchen and just begin to collect what calls to me.

For those that don’t cook for themselves too often or that are just jumping in to cooking, this can seem like a daunting task. However, as true with most things in life (outside of skydiving) – practice makes perfect. As you experiment and learn, you’ll certainly have some duds or things that don’t quite go your way – but the knowledge you’ll pick up will be more valuable in the long run than any recipe could ever be.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with using and following a recipe – we do it quite often on the blog. My point is, be sure to use these recipes and guides as a learning tool to build the skills you’ll need to eventually branch out and create your own dishes. Cooking becomes even more fun when you’re not only making the dish, but responsible for its contents as well.

As the cool fall winds are moving in, I found myself craving a hearty beef stew. So, I set out to the kitchen to cook up what my mind was craving – the result was one of the best stews we’ve made on the blog to date. Check it out;

The Recipe: Hearty Country Beef Stew
This is an Out of the Culinary original recipe

What You’ll Need:
1 Pound Beef Stew Meat (Cubed)
¾ - 1 Pound Baby Red Potatoes (Cubed)*
1 Cup Frozen Green Beans
1 Cup Frozen Peas & Carrots
1 Can (10-12 Ounces) Low Sodium Beef Broth
1 Can (14.5 Ounces) Diced Tomatoes, Drained**
1 Teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 Bay Leaf
1 Tablespoon Flour

* I prefer my stews to have thick, hearty potato pieces. I typically quarter my baby red potatoes and leave them at that. You are free to dice the potatoes as fine as you’d prefer as the cooking times will largely stay the same.

** For the longest time, I couldn’t understand why beef stew recipes insisted on including tomatoes. “I want a rich, beefy flavor” I thought to myself. “Why in the world would I add an acidic product to cut that flavor?”  As such, I largely ignored the tomato portion of most stew recipes, thinking it was unnecessary. I finally relented and added tomatoes to a stew a couple of years ago and found what I had been missing all of this time. The tomatoes don’t detract at all from the beef’s flavor – in fact, they add to it. Just another example of using experience to learn from your past mistakes. (This is a long way of saying, don’t skip the tomatoes!)

Begin by placing a large dutch oven over medium high heat and adding the stew meat. Cook the meat until it is browned on all sides and you can no longer see any pink coloration, 5 to 10 minutes.

You may be asking yourself, “Why brown the meat when we’re just going to let everything simmer in the pot anyway?” Excellent question! The answer can be found in the science of browning meat. When we brown meat, we create an outer crust by searing the meat on intense heat. This crust does two things, it transforms the outer flavor of the beef and creates a sort of barrier that locks in much of the moisture. By browning the beef beforehand, you’re enhancing the flavor and insuring that your beef will be soft and juicy when the stew is finished. If you left the beef raw and simply let it cook within the stew, you’d boil it, making it tougher and more likely to be dried out and bland.

Once you beef is browned, add the frozen vegetables and the Worcestershire sauce. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables have softened and the sauce ahs worked its way into the beef. Next, stir in the canned tomatoes, allowing the mixture to simmer for 3 to 5 minutes before moving on to the next step.

Add the potatoes and beef broth to the pot. If the broth does not cover the all of the ingredients, fill the broth can with water an add as much or as little water to the pot until the liquid just barely covers the top of all the ingredients. Because we’re making a stew, we want the liquid level to be a bit lower than if we were making a soup.

Give the pot a stir to make sure all of the ingredients are incorporated. Add the bay leaf and cover the pot. Bring it to a simmer and allow the stew to cook for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the simmer is too vigorous (you want a gentle bubble, not an aggressive boil) reduce the heat.

After the first 30 to 45 minutes, remove the lid from the pot, stir the stew and return it to a soft simmer. Let the stew cook for an additional 30 to 45 minutes. (By removing the lid, we’re letting some of the excess moisture escape. Since I like my stews to be nice and thick, we need to get excess moisture out of the pot. If you like a ‘runnier’ stew, simply leave the lid on for this step).

Before serving, fish out the bay leaf and stir in the tablespoon of flour. This will thicken the broth and tighten the overall stew. Serve warm and enjoy!

The Results:

Few things top a nice, filling stew on a cool fall day. Loaded with a variety of vegetables, flavorful beef and a flavorful broth (thanks, in part to the tomatoes), this stew is beautiful in its simplicity. Full of flavor, light on calories (250 per cup) and super easy to make – this ‘off the cuff’ creation easily climbs to the top of our all time favorite stew list. Use it as a guide or as simple inspiration to create your own fall stew!

That’s all we have for you this week. Look out on Sunday for another special post, followed by a series of new recipes next week. Until then,


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