Beef stew is a popular make-ahead meal easy to adapt to the crockpot. From Chuckwagon stew to Irish stew, this hearty meal can accompany cornbread, beans, or buttered rolls, with a slice of pie for dessert. Stew has been a mainstay throughout the world for hundreds of years. It is an economical way to stretch inexpensive cuts of meat and uses whatever vegetables are on hand. Known for its slow, simmered, tender meat, beef stew is as popular today as it was on the Oregon Trail.
Gather Your Ingredients
Basic beef stew contains beef, broth, and vegetables. You will need the following ingredients to create a stew that serves four people:
- 2 lbs. stew meat
- 2 T butter or vegetable oil
- One chopped onion
- packet of brown gravy mix (optional) and water or beef broth
- 4 large chopped carrots or 2 cups chopped baby carrots
- 1 chopped stalk of celery
- 4 cubed potatoes
- One can sweet corn (drained) or 1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen
- 1/2 cup rice or barley if desired
- Salt and pepper
- Flour for dredging the meat if not using gravy
- Cornstarch for thickening
A heavy dutch oven is ideal for preparing and simmering stew on top of the stove, and it can be placed in the oven to keep warm. A crockpot is another great prep option, and the instructions are at the end of this article.
If stew meat is not available, cube a chuck roast or steak. Cheaper and leaner cuts of meat are fine for stew, as the slow cooking method releases flavor and tenderizes the meat. Melt the butter or oil in the Dutch oven and brown the beef. Stir every few minutes until brown on all sides. Add the chopped onion, and lightly brown it. Stir in the brown gravy mix, stirring into all meat is coated and lightly brown. Add water or beef broth to cover by about two inches. Place the pot on low heat to simmer for 20 minutes.
Chop celery and carrots and add them to the broth and meat. Add approximately 4 cups more water or broth. Cover and continue simmering on low. Make sure there is enough liquid in the pot and stir occasionally so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. Add liquid as needed.
The Final Ingredients
Add potatoes 45 minutes prior to eating. This gives them time to cook and absorb flavor without breaking down and becoming mushy. Red potatoes are ideally suited for stew as they are not as starchy as white potatoes. Add corn and rice or barley, too, if desired. Add salt and pepper to taste and continue simmering for 45 minutes.
Thickening the Broth
Most people simmer beef stew for a total of about three hours. If the meal needs to be thicker, two methods can achieve this. One is to make flour balls using flour and butter and drop them into the pan. The easier method is to add 1/2 cup cold water to 3 tablespoons of cornstarch and stir until smooth. Slowly pour this mixture into the broth, stirring the entire time. Cornstarch has to come to a boil to thicken, so increase the heat temporarily. You may need to add more, depending on how thick you want your stew and how much water is in the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste, and your beef stew is ready to serve.
Making Beef Stew in the Crockpot
The ingredients remain the same, but preparation will vary when you’re using a crockpot. For maximum flavor, brown the meat, onion, and gravy mix in the same manner as when making stew on the stove top. Lightly grease the bottom of the crockpot to prevent sticking and pour the meat and drippings into the bottom, along with some beef broth or water. Layer carrots, celery, potatoes, corn, and rice or barley. Add broth to cover and simmer on low for 10-12 hours, or place on the high setting for 4-5 hours. The potatoes will cook best if cut about the same size as the meat.
Stew has as many variations as there are cooks, who use a wide variety of veggies, including peas, turnips, okra, tomatoes, mushrooms, and asparagus. Wine and beer add more flavor. Mulligan stew, Irish stew, Beef Burgundy, and Navarin are just a few well-known traditional stews.
Meatball stew is made similarly to traditional beef stew. Browning the meatballs prior to adding the other ingredients will release flavor and help them hold their shape. Basil, peppers, tomatoes, tomato paste, thyme, and wine or vinegar are often added to meatball stew.
Stew vs. Soup
The terms soup and stew are often used interchangeably. Stews are hardier and typically thicker than soups. Stews also contain a higher ratio of meat and vegetables to broth.
Stews are a hearty meal on their own. They are generally served in a bowl or over mashed potatoes or rice. Sometimes they are cooked inside a pastry, as with pot pie. Leftovers can be reheated, and more vegetables can be added to stretch it for another meal. Biscuits, dinner rolls, even bread and butter, are popular accompaniments.