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Beef stew is one of the most cozy comforts you can dream of, perfect to warm up a cold night and leave you feeling loved. And the key, of course, to a good beef stew is tender, really beefy-tasting meat. You'll find that in tough cuts with lots of connective tissue; over gentle, slow cooking, that tissue breaks down and makes the meat fork-tender, moist, and, well, deeply meaty. If you use an already-tender cut, it will dry out and get tough as the stew cooks—best to go with a tough guy (it's cheaper, too).
Our go-to for beef stew is boneless chuck roast. It doesn't dry out, and it offers up all the rich flavor you want in a beef stew. You're probably best avoiding those packages of "beef stew meat" or "beef for stewing"—they may indeed contain chuck, but these scraps are likely to be a mixture of cuts that cook at different rates.
A couple of other notes: For best flavor, do take the time to brown the beef well on the front end—that "caramelization" adds loads of depth and savory flavor to the whole pot of stew. Go for deep, really brown color; that means more flavor. And the last note: Do be patient, and let the stew cook slowly for a long time, as the recipe directs. It'll be worth it, I promise.
How to cook perfect beef stew
Ever since humanity first began to upgrade its culinary skills from cremating mammoth steaks over an open fire, slow-cooking has been a vital part of the thrifty cook's repertoire, transforming chewy, hard-working cuts of meat into melting, flavourful tenderness. All you need is some liquid and a little patience. But while other countries celebrate such peasant cuisine, Britain has largely abandoned its own recipes in favour of daubes, bourguignons and osso bucco – a tendency not helped by the word "stew", with its gristly overtones of school dinners and slow-burning resentments. Stewing is an activity for disgraced politicians and lovestruck teenagers, not a precursor to dinner.
Tellingly, Plat du Jour, Jane Grigson's favourite one-pot cookery book, which was first published in 1957, includes recipes for goulash and stroganoff, and an extravagant two for daube, but nothing for anything as boring as a British beef stew. As Darina Allen points out when introducing Ballymaloe's boeuf bourguignon, "in Ireland stew is generally regarded as something you feed the family, not your guests" – an observation which applies equally in the UK. However, I would contend that a good stew made with care doesn't need wine or paprika or soy sauce to make it good enough to serve to the Queen (should she drop round and you're feeling generous).
All beef stew recipes start in much the same way. The meat is briefly browned in fat (dripping, butter, oil, or a mixture, depending on the author) for flavour, along with any other ingredients (carrots and onions form the backbone of most stews, but mushrooms, bacon and other root veg are also common additions), and the whole is then covered with liquid, and left to cook gently until the meat is tender. It can then be thickened with flour, or bulked out with barley or dumplings, or just served as is.
Best lean cut for tender beef stew?
I'm making a beef stew, and I always struggle with trying to find the best cut that's both tender and lean. I really hate fatty meat, but I'm always told that the meat needs fat to become tender.
I don't mind if there's a big glob of fat that can easily be removed after cooking, or if the meat is marbled in such a way that the fat simply melts away during the cooking process. What I hate is actually biting into a mouthful of meat that has fat running through it.
The stew I'm making is called Rendang, it's an Indonesian recipe that's supposed to simmer slowly for hours in a mixture of coconut milk and spices. For this recipe the beef is cubed, cooking as a whole roast wouldn't work.
Any suggestions on the best cut to use, and how long I should cook it for? Ideally longer is better, I prefer getting something that won't toughen up from cooking too long. This is one of those recipes where it tastes better each time you reheat it.
Why Collagen-Rich Beef Is Good in a Stew
At this point, you're likely wondering what this has to do with stew. And, once again, the answer is collagen. See, collagen is tough as heck when raw—you'll have as much luck chewing through it as my free-falling friend did completely tearing my ligament—but cook it long enough and it'll transform into meltingly soft gelatin, giving the meat a moist and tender texture. That gelatin will also seep into the surrounding stew liquids, increasing their viscosity and giving them rich body. But simmer a low-collagen, tender-when-raw cut like tenderloin for three hours, and it'll turn horribly tough and dry.
To give you a visual, I simmered lean, collagen-poor beef eye round for two hours. As you can see in the photo below, the cut has relatively little marbling—intramuscular fat and connective tissue (i.e., collagen)—when raw. Once fully cooked, it's pretty much a stew's worst nightmare, nothing but tight little bundles of parched muscle fiber.
What's interesting about all of this is that regardless of how much collagen a piece of beef has, it'll lose roughly the same amount of moisture when cooked. I weighed two equal, 630-gram portions of beef, one chuck (lots of collagen and connective tissue) and the other eye round (not much at all), then simmered them for two hours and re-weighed. The chuck lost 254 grams of its weight, while the eye round lost 275 grams, a measly 21-gram difference. That means both cuts dry out approximately the same amount, but the chuck, with the help of its gelatin, seems to be moister when you eat it.
The key, then, is to seek tough cuts of beef with plenty of collagen and fat for stews. which still leaves us with quite a lot of cow to choose from. To find out how each of the six most common tough cuts performs, I browned each, then simmered them all in water until tender, which was about two hours in most cases.
Select the Right Cut for Beef Stew
The most important thing for beef stew is to buy the right cut, and it’s surprising that cuts that start out tender like strip loin become tough and chewy in a stew!
What you want instead are big and tough cuts like chuck roast, which comes from the shoulder and has great flavor. The collagen in its connective tissue breaks down during cooking, leaving you with fork-tender beef.
Other cuts that are good for beef stew include bottom round roast, chuck steak, bottom eye roast, chuck-eye roast, English roast or pot roast. Make sure to avoid packaged “stew meat” at the supermarket. The pre-cut “stew meat” consists of leftovers that do not cook consistently and usually become chewy.
If your chuck roast is well-marbled, you can trim any excess fat. Cut the beef into large 2-inch cubes, as small pieces tend to fall apart during cooking. Consider getting your butcher to do the trimming and cutting for you to save time!
Garlic Butter Steak Cubes
If you want recipes using stew beef cubes not slow cooker style, then try this one. It’s a bit simpler than the other recipes I have given you so far and great mid-week use for your steak cubes when you don’t want to spend a lot of time making the food.
I would pair this one with some potatoes, veggies, pasta, or bread. This is one of those lovely recipes using stew beef cubes French cooks will use often, and you can make it yourself in minutes.
Eye Round Beef Stew
3 lb. beef eye round
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/2 cup Burgundy wine
3 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 and 1/2 cups baby carrots
1 cup frozen whole pearl onions
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 can (13-3/4 ounces) beef broth
2 Tbsp. cornstarch, dissolved in 2 Tbsp. water
1 package (8 ounces) frozen peas
1. Cut eye round roast into 1 inch pieces.
2. In Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add beef (half at a time) and brown evenly, stirring occasionally. Pour off drippings. Season with thyme, salt and pepper. Stir in broth, wine and garlic. Bring to a boil reduce heat to low. Cover tightly and simmer 1 and 1/2 hours.
3. Add carrots and onions. Cover and continue cooking 35 to 40 minutes or until beef and vegetables are tender.
4. Bring beef stew to a boil over medium-high heat. Add cornstarch mixture cook and stir 1 minute. Stir in sugar snap peas.
10 tips for perfect beef bourguignon:
1. Choose the right cut
2. Make it chunky
3. Pick the wine
5 Star anise
6. Sweet garlic
7. Kept-in carrots
8. Reduce to refine
9. Finishing touch
10. Better with time
1. Choose the right cut
Choosing the right cut of beef will make a massive difference. You’re after a hard-working muscle that has good marbling. Ox or beef cheek (the same thing, different name) is ideal as it holds its shape when braised and makes the sauce gelatinous. Shin, the meat from a short rib, chuck, or shoulder of beef would all also work well.
2. Make it chunky
It’s more attractive and authentic to serve one or two larger pieces of beef then lots of scrappy smaller bits. For the beef to hold its integrity, hand-cut it into large 5cm chunks (you want about two pieces per portion) and avoid pre-cut stewing beef that will disintegrate into the sauce.
3. The wine
We’ve made our recipe all wine and no stock as the braise makes its own stock while it cooks. Classic Burgundy wines are expensive and too good to cook with, so use a cheaper pinot noir which is made from the same grape used in Burgundy. We also made a version using Rioja that packed loads of flavour, but don’t tell the French…
By boiling and flaming the wine you burn off the raw alcohol flavour and by steeping the beef in the hot wine, it allows the wine to penetrate the meat. This makes for a very full-bodied, winey stew. If you’re after something lighter or don’t have the time, skip the marination.
5. Star anise
We’ve borrowed from Chinese braising and added star anise which has properties that helps intensify the meatiness of the dish. It’s there to be infused and is unpleasant bitten into so try and fish it out before serving.
6. Sweet garlic
When garlic is slow-cooked it becomes mild and soft. We’ve used it to help thicken and flavour the finished sauce. When you strain the sauce, really push hard on the braised garlic bulb to release and purée the whole cloves through the sieve and into the sauce.
7. Kept-in carrots
Often discarded, we think stewed carrots are a thing of beauty so we’ve kept them chunky and invited them to the party. Pick them out when you strain the sauce and set them aside to go into the finished dish.
8. Reduce to refine
By boiling down the sauce you get to specify the consistency and flavour, leaving nothing to chance. You can scoop off any froth that forms leaving you with a more refined sauce.
9. Finishing touch
The final flourish of bacon chunks, baby onions and mushrooms is what turns a red wine stew into a bourguignon. We’ve stayed true to the classic but without them you still have a delicious braise of beef and carrots.
10. Better with time
The whole thing can be made up to three days ahead, chilled and reheated and the flavours will become more full-bodied. It can also be frozen for up to 6 months. Simply defrost and reheat.
See the full recipe for our next level beef bourguignon.
Pat the meat dry with paper towels. Cut the beef against the grain into 2-inch strips about 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle the meat with the salt and pepper and set aside.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Blend in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
Gradually pour in the beef stock, stirring and cooking until thickened and smooth.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and the remaining tablespoon of butter over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring frequently until the onion is tender and translucent, about 4 minutes.
Push the onion to one side of the skillet. Add the meat in batches and sear until light brown on both sides. Once done, push the seared meat into the onion to make room for the next batch.
Once all of the beef is browned, add the beef and onion to the thickened sauce. Cover and cook on low, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
Take a tablespoon or two of the hot sauce and add to the sour cream mix well. This is called tempering and prevents the sour cream from curdling.
Stir the sour cream into the sauce and heat through but do not boil.
Arrange the beef stroganoff on a platter over buttered noodles, if desired, and garnish with the fresh chopped parsley.
What's the Best Beef for Stroganoff?
This recipe calls for top sirloin, which is a tender cut of meat. Because the beef isn't cooked for too long in this recipe, the beef shouldn't be a cut that is tough or requires a long, slow cooking time. If you cannot find top sirloin, you can use boneless rib-eye steak, filet mignon tips, or beef tenderloin. (Tenderloin is pricey, but it is excellent in stroganoff.) If you happen to use a tougher cut of beef, just take note that it will need more simmering time but be mindful to not overcook.
Cover the skillet or Dutch oven and place it in the preheated oven. Check the meat periodically, adding more liquid as needed to prevent the meat from drying out. Test the meat for tenderness after 2 to 3 hours. Once the meat is done, an additional half-hour of cooking in liquid will make it more tender.
Things You'll Need
Heavy skillet or Dutch oven with lid
Broth, wine or other liquid
Aromatics, like onion, garlic and celery
For a complete meal in a pot, add potatoes, carrots or other desired vegetables during the last 45 minutes of cooking.