Stewing can be the best way to make something good out of foods that don't do too well with other cooking methods. The long, slow cooking tenderizes tough cuts of meat, and it's a good one-dish meal. It's also easy to make, a great way to use up leftovers and easy to freeze and reheat. In most cases, you can do it all in one pot.
- If you prefer a thicker stew, make a mixture called a roux. Heat 2 tbsp. oil and 4 tbsp. flour together, stirring constantly, until the mixture turns light brown. Whisk this into the stew just before the end of the cooking time and simmer for about 15 minutes. Repeat if necessary.
- Potatoes are indispensable in most stews. The trick is to add them after the stew has simmered for a while so that they don't overcook and disintegrate. Potatoes cut in quarters or large cubes should be added when there's about 40 minutes of cooking time remaining.
- Poultry stews take about an hour to cook, lamb and veal stews about 90 minutes, and beef stews up to three hours. Check for doneness by removing a piece of meat and tasting it; it should be nice and tender but not mushy.
- Stew made with vegetables only takes about 20 to 35 minutes to cook. Check such a stew constantly because, unlike meat stew, it's easy to overcook vegetable stew.
- Tougher cuts make the best stew meat, because the slow cooking tenderizes the meat, while long stewing will actually make tender cuts tougher. Look for "stew meat" in the store. It's usually the least expensive. If using beef, cubed chuck makes the best stew.
- Creating savory stews is a cinch with these easy to make recipes: Hearty Beef Stew, Bo Kho (Vietnamese-Style Beef Stew) and Sancocho Stew.
- Start your stew by cutting your ingredients roughly the same size so that they cook evenly. Stews are usually made up of smaller pieces of meat and vegetables so that they can be bite size and their flavors can mingle.
- Heat a large saucepan or stockpot over medium-high heat and add a few tablespoons of oil - enough so that the meat won't stick.
- Season the meat with salt and pepper and add it to the pan. The pan should be hot enough for the meat to sizzle. Brown the meat thoroughly, but don't cook it all the way through.
- Remove meat when it is browned and add your vegetables (but not potatoes just yet). Most stews use a mixture of onions, celery and carrots. Cook these for a few minutes, stirring them around, and then add a generous sprinkle of flour. This will thicken the stew as it cooks. (Add about 1 tbsp. flour for each pint of cooking liquid you will use in step 7.)
- Stir the flour into the vegetables and cook for a few minutes before placing the meat back in.
- Add herbs, such as bay leaf or thyme, if desired.
- Cover the stew with liquid. Most stewing liquid is water, stock, wine or a combination. Homemade stock is best, of course, but low-sodium canned stock will do. Any dry wine will work; different wines give your stew different tastes - just don't use a sweet wine.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook until the meat is done (see Tips above for approximate cooking times). Sprinkle on freshly chopped parsley or another herb that will complement your stew.