Beef stew has never been a food about which I’ve gotten very excited. We didn’t eat it much growing up, so maybe I just never developed a taste for it. When I did have it, the meat was usually decent, but the texture of the various vegetable components always left me a bit unsettled. Too crisp or too soft, they never seemed quite right.
This recipe, introduced to me by a friend, takes away all the things about traditional beef stew that have left me wanting and replaces them with succulent flavor and texture. You won’t find a bag of frozen mixed veggies on this ingredient list; in fact the only vegetable (fruit?) in this dish is tomatoes (and onions, if you count those). Their acidity marries well with the red wine that makes up the majority of the liquid. Typically used in Asian cuisine, hoisin sauce plays an unlikely role, adding sweetness as a counterpoint to the mellowed bite of the Cabernet.
It may be cliché to advise you to serve this stew with a freshly baked loaf of artisan bread, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Because it’s amazing. If you haven’t tried your hand at making homemade bread, or if you have and it hasn’t turned out well, I highly recommend Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Historically, baking hasn’t been my strong point, and before I started using this method, my loaves were dried out bricks masquerading as bread. The technique is super simple, and it has transformed me from someone who was terrified of home baking to a person who actually enjoys the process (and the outcome!).
- 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 1/2 pounds boneless beef roast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 3 1/2 cups large-diced onions
- 3 cups Cabernet Sauvignon, or other good quality red wine
- 2 14 ½-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 2/3 cup hoisin sauce
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 tablespoons corn starch plus 2 tablespoons cold water
- Prepared mashed red potatoes or cooked egg noodles
- Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Swirl 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in the bottom of the pan, coating it evenly. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper, and then add half of it to the hot oil; sear on all sides. Repeat with the second half of the meat. At this point, don’t worry about cooking the meat all the way through. The main objective of this step is to begin layering flavors; searing the meat locks in the juices and creates a flavorful exterior. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to brown the meat in three batches instead of two. If the meat is crowded in the pan, moisture won’t be able to escape and the resultant beef will be grey-ish and lacking the desired caramelization.
- After the meat has been seared, set it aside and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the onions to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium, and saute until golden brown, about 10-15 minutes.
- Combine beef, onions, red wine, diced tomatoes, hoisin sauce, bay leaves, oregano, basil, and thyme in a slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 5-6 hours (or on low for 9-10 hours), until the meat is tender. To thicken the broth, stir in a mixture of 2 tablespoons corn starch plus 2 tablespoons cold water prior to the last hour of cooking. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Discard bay leaves before serving. This stew is delicious served over mashed red potatoes or cooked egg noodles.
Adapted from Epicurious.com.
Tips and Tidbits:
- One of the benefits to cooking meat at a low temperature for a long time is that even the toughest of pieces become melt-in-your-mouth tender. For this reason, I don’t fuss over getting a certain cut of beef. Pre-cut “stew meat,” boneless beef roast, thick sliced steak – any of these will do; I usually buy whatever is cheapest at the grocery store that day.
- Hoisin sauce is usually available in the international foods aisle of most grocery stores. Perhaps it’s just the region I live in, but I find that it tends to be overpriced in the mainstream stores, and I can actually get a better deal if I pick it up at a specialty Asian market instead.
- If you are in a hurry and wish to save on prep time, you can brown the meat and onions the day before and store in the refrigerator until you want to use them. Another option is to skip the searing of the meat and the cooking of the onions altogether and just throw everything straight into the slow cooker. You lose a little bit of the depth of flavor, but the result is still quite tasty. And sometimes, on a busy weekday, this kind of shortcut can be a lifesaver.
- If using a slow cooker isn’t your style, this dish can easily be prepared stovetop. In a large pot or dutch oven, add the seared beef, cooked onions, red wine, diced tomatoes, hoisin sauce, bay leaves, oregano, basil,and thyme. Heat over medium high heat until boiling, and then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 90 minutes. Add in the cornstarch mixture, if desired, and simmer for 10 minutes more, until the stew is thickened.