In these last weeks of winter, I’m thinking about enjoying a quiet weekend with no plans, along with a serving of my favorite comfort food, beef stew.
There are few dishes that take me back to my childhood more than a bowl of hot beef stew. Classic comfort food!
My mom’s beef stew was a simple mixture of beef, onions, carrots and celery that she quickly whipped up in the pressure cooker. My anticipation for this humble delicacy was made even greater by the expectation of getting to devour the delicious dill bread that was always served as an accompaniment.
While I still use her recipe for the dill bread, my version of beef stew is quite different. As with most of my meals, the vegetables take center stage. The beef simmers in the oven for several hours in a mixture of red wine and a hardy helping of root vegetables, so it develops a delicious, rich, concentrated gravy.
I like to reserve this dish for a weekend when I have time to get an early start on dinner. The aroma alone will lure anyone in the house straight into the kitchen.
The ingredient list may look long, but it is familiar and not an intimidating cooking method. Once it’s put together, you can set it and forget it, leaving you free to do other things while it simmers in the oven for a couple of hours.
It’s important to get the right cut of meat. I’ve made it with sirloin, beef chuck and boneless beef ribs. Ask your butcher for his recommendation.
As with any stew, the key to developing a full flavor is to properly brown the meat. Work in small batches using a very hot pan. Be careful not to crowd the meat; this will cause it to steam instead of brown. All of the browned bits at the bottom of the pan hold bold, beefy flavor. Use a wooden spoon to scrape them up and mix into the broth, which will help to create a rich, flavorful sauce that will permeate the dish.
Although red wine adds a nice flavor to the stew, additional chicken broth can be used in its place. The mushrooms add an earthiness and caramelization that contributes to the dish. I have found that sauteing them in a little butter before adding them to the stew brings out their flavor and richness even more, which makes it worth the extra step.
No matter how many times I’ve made this dish, I always have difficulty deciding what to serve it over. I love it with wide egg noodles, but it’s equally delicious over mashed potatoes. I’ve thought about trying it over creamy polenta, which I imagine would also be tasty. This will just depend upon your preference.
No matter what you choose, I implore you to make a loaf of my mother’s dill bread to serve with it. This is an easy bread to make that doesn’t involve any kneading. It is hard to beat homemade bread, especially when it’s topped with melted butter and a couple grinds of course salt when it exits the oven.
The stew is even better made a day ahead and refrigerated, which makes it an excellent choice to prepare ahead of time for a dinner party. Just reheat in the oven and your house will smell like you’ve been cooking all day.
Staying in is the new going out, so cheers to weekends, to slow cooking, to having friends over and to savoring all that chilly weather has to offer.
Hearty and satisfying, beef stew is classic comfort food. Enjoy!