Prepare delicious stew from scratch
Like a good chili or chicken noodle soup, homemade stew is one of those dishes that is just good to have in your cooking arsenal. It is a dish that will serve you through cold lazy days and unexpected family visits. Preparing one is easy and is sure to nourish you through several meals. Follow these simple steps to prepare your stew from scratch.
Slice and dice: Your first step should be to gather your main ingredients, starting with the meat. Take about ¼ kilogram of meat-beef or lamb-per person you are serving. You can use less, but ¼ kilogram will ensure that you have leftover. The meat should be cut into 1 ½ inch cubes. The next in the process is potatoes. Waxy potatoes such as red potatoes hold their shape the best. Peel them if you like, or just scrub them clean, then cut into pieces that match the size of your pieces of meat. Carrots are a classic ingredient that will never go out of style. If you are not a carrot fan, you can opt for turnips, parsnips, or squash, such as delicata. You can add as much or as little as you like. The final ingredient is onion. About half an onion per person should do the trick: dice it up and you are ready to go.
Sear: Once you have all your ingredients sliced and diced, it is time to start cooking. If you are going to use your oven, preheat it to 162 degrees Celsius. If you plan on using your slow cooker, then set it to low. In case of the oven, grab a heavy Dutch oven. If you are using your slow cooker, grab a large heavy skillet.
Heat the pot or skillet over high heat with a swirl of neutral oil in it, and season your meat generously with salt and pepper. Work in batches if required and sear your pieces of meat by placing them at least an inch apart. Then turn them every three or five minutes until they are deeply browned on all sides. Set aside on a plate, or right into the slow cooker.
Build your flavor: Once all the meat is seared and removed, turn the heat down to medium and add your diced onions. Sauté until the onions start to soften and get translucent. Scrape up all the browned bits on the bottom of the pan as you do this. Known in French as the ‘fonds,’ these browned bits are the secret flavor-building block of any stew. Now, add some tomato paste and stir until it coats the onions.
Next, deglaze using chicken or beef stock and then start stirring and scraping until everything is bubbling. To get more flavor into your stew, add some aromatics. For a classic flavor add a couple of bay leaves and a few sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary. This is where you can play with personalizing the flavor of your stew.
Let it simmer: Now that you have got your flavor-packed liquid ready, either pour it over the meat into the slow cooker, or add your meat back into the Dutch oven.
Check your liquid level: If you are working in the Dutch oven, you want the meat covered almost completely with liquid. If it is not, add more stock, or even just water until it is, then cover with a lid, slip it in the oven and let it simmer. Check every hour or so and add more liquid if required and give it a stir. Keep cooking until the meat is just fork tender (three hours). At that point, add the potatoes, veggies and enough liquid to keep everything three-quarters of the way covered. Keep cooking for another 45 minutes to an hour, until the potatoes and vegetables are also fork tender.
If you are working with the slow cooker, add your potatoes and veggies right along with the meat, and make sure the whole lot is covered a bit more than three-quarters of the way. Seal with the lid, then let it cook on low for at least seven to eight hours, until the meat and potatoes are fork tender.
Finish with a hit of acid and season to taste: After all that slow, mellow cooking, you need a bit of acid to brighten and balance the flavor of the stew. So give it a taste by adding some salt, a splash of vinegar or citrus juice and stir. You can also use sour cream or yogurt instead of more traditional acids, which will help thicken the liquid.