I am of the firm opinion that everyone should know how to prepare a great stew from scratch. I understand that there are many people who live extraordinarily busy, demanding, and challenging lives (I’m mostly looking at you, mothers and fathers) and spending 3-4 hours on a recipe can seem like an insurmountable and unrealistic task.
Nevertheless, keep a few things in mind:
- Stews are very easy to make and it’s not like you’re going to be performing 7 or 8 tasks at once in the kitchen.
- Generally speaking, stews are (should!) be made in a single pot to maximize flavour development – so you’ve just saved yourself some clean up time!
- Stews are versatile and can lend themselves to just about any cut of meat.
- They’re best when made with cheaper cuts of meat, so you’ll end up saving money!
- You can throw any number of vegetables in there, which is always a benefit.
- They always taste better the next day and can be frozen for a rainy day, which means they are perfect for meal prep.
- They’re about as close to a real comfort food as you can get. Stews taste the way hugs feel!
- Stews can easily feed a crowd and it’s just as easy to double or triple recipes if you have a big enough cooking vessel.
The list goes on but I think you’re starting to get the point! If I was to latch onto one of the above pros, though, it would be the versatility aspect of stew.
Versatility is important in any recipe, but perhaps even more so in a healthy one. Take this Whole30 Beef Stew for example. Once you get the technique of braising down, you can start to play around with the ingredients, vegetables, herbs and spices. Substitute beef for lamb, venison or elk. Try adding some sweet potato instead of white potato. You can throw some zucchini and squash into the mix! The options are endless as long as you follow the basic braising technique and keep proportions in mind.
Braising refers to the technique of cooking meat and/or vegetables in both dry and wet environments for a long period of time. It works best with tougher and, by default, cheaper cuts of meat because the low-and-slow (low heat, long time) method allows for connective tissues to break down and become fork tender.
Braising typically follows the same template regardless of what you’re cooking:
- In an oven-safe cooking vessel, brown/sear the ingredient at a high temperature in some type of cooking fat with a high smoking point (avocado oil is an excellent healthy option).
- Transfer seared meat to a bowl/tray and add aromatics and vegetables to the pot (things like root vegetables, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, herbs, etc). Then cook those vegetables a bit so they start to soften and develop some flavour.
- Deglaze the pot with some type of liquid (chicken stock, beef stock, bone broth or water are all excellent, healthy options). Scrape any brown bits on the bottom of the pot.
- Return browned meat to pot. Cover pot with lid and transfer to an oven that is usually set at 350F. Cook until the meat is very tender (this can take anywhere from 1.5hrs to 4-6 hours, depending on the cut of meat).
- That’s it!
This is the same basic technique I use to make my Ancho Pork, Mexican Short Ribs, Taco Meat, etc. The difference is the type of meat, vegetables, and spices. I also sometimes cook the recipe on the stovetop or in a crockpot, depending on how busy I am or if I’m cooking other things as well and need oven space. In fact, braising is perfectly suited to the Instant Pot, which, unlike most slow cookers, has a built in sautée function that allows you to sear meats.
Now go forth and braise, my friends! Braise like you give a damn!
Whole30 Beef Stew
INGREDIENTS: (serves 6)
2 lbs stewing beef – cut into 1″ cubes (chuck, shoulder, bottom round, or rump all work here)
2 med-sized onions – quartered
4 celery stalks – chopped into 1″ pieces
3 carrots – chopped on a bias into 1″ pieces
2 parsnips – cubed
227gr button mushrooms – halved
7 cloves garlic – smashed
1 tbsp fresh thyme
1 tbsp fresh rosemary – finely chopped
2 bay leaves (fresh or dried)
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 L chicken or beef stock
8-10 baby white potatoes – quartered
salt and pepper
fresh parsley – for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Pat meat very dry with paper towel and season both sides with salt.
- Add 1 tbsp avocado oil to a large Dutch oven or oven-safe pot over high heat. Add beef to pot and brown in batches so as to not overcrowd the pot. Transfer browned beef to a bowl. **Note: if you’re beef does not brown it is because a) you did not dry the meat b) the pot is not hot enough c) you overcrowded the pot and are causing the beef to steam d) all of the above.
- If required, add an additional 1 tbsp avocado oil to the pot. Add onion, celery, carrot and parsnips. Season with a small pinch of salt and cook for 4-5 minutes.
- Add mushrooms and cook an additional 4-5 minutes. Add garlic, thyme and rosemary and cook an additional 60 seconds.
- Add paprika and smoked paprika and cook an additional 45-60 seconds. Return browned beef to pot along with stock, potatoes and bay leaves. Bring everything to a boil, season with black pepper, cover with lid and transfer to 350F oven for 1.5 hours.
- Remove from oven, taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. If the meat is still tough, return to oven for an additional 30 minutes, then check again.
- Serve and garnish with fresh parsley.