From America's Test Kitchen Season 1: Beef Stew
Meat stews should be rich and satisfying. Our goal in developing this recipe was to keep the process simple without compromising the stew’s deep, complex flavor.
Some of the recipes that we tried neglected to brown the meat and vegetables, but we deemed this step far too important to skip. When these ingredients are browned, their sugars caramelize. Deglazing the pan with a liquid loosens the caramelized, flavor-packed bits from the bottom of the pan, which in turn dissolve and flavor the stew liquid.
To determine the best cut of meat, we made a big pot of stew with 12 different cuts of beef. Chuck proved to be the most flavorful, tender, and juicy. Instead of buying prepackaged stew meat, which comes in all different sizes and cooks unevenly, we cut our own pieces from chuck steak or roast. Since all the cubes are coming from the same piece of meat, they will cook uniformly and have the flavor and richness of chuck.
We tried numerous thickening techniques, but we ultimately opted for thickening the stew with flour at the beginning—stirring it into the sautéing onions and garlic right before adding the combination of chicken stock and red wine, which we found to be the best braising liquid. This way, there’s no last-minute work; once the liquid starts to simmer, the cook is free to do something else. We also prefer to add the vegetables partway through the cooking process; this way they hold their shape but still have time to meld with the other stew ingredients.
The temperature of the stewing liquid is crucial. Boiled meat stays tough, and its exterior becomes especially dry. Keeping the liquid at a simmer lets the internal temperature of the meat rise slowly, allowing it to become fork-tender by the time much of the collagen turns to gelatin and thickens the stew. We found that putting a covered Dutch oven in a warm oven kept the temperature of the stewing liquid below the boiling point, at about 200 degrees
Serves 6 to 8
Make this stew in a large, heavy-bottomed soup kettle measuring at least ten inches in diameter. If the kettle is any smaller, you may need to cook the meat in three batches rather than two.