Yes, you read that correctly: beef stew is next on the agenda. We’ll get to that but first I’ve got some ‘splaining to do. One of Chicago’s grocery chains has closed selected stores around town, renovated them, and is now re-opening each in grand style. One such re-opening occurred recently in my neighborhood and, of course, I attended and brought a friend. While there, he took advantage of one of the sales, buying a 4 lb bottom round beef roast. As you may already know, this cut of beef is not particularly well-marbled and isn’t the most tender of cuts. As such, it responds well to stewing or braising and is perfect for slow cooker stew. My friend asked if I had a recipe and I sent him this one in an email. Since I have the recipe handy, I might as well include it here now rather than later.
Before I share the recipe, however, we should probably look at a few of the ingredients. First off, I tend to avoid the grocery’s beef that’s pre-cut into chunks and labeled “beef for stew”. When I make stew, I prefer pieces that are 2 – 3 inches in size and those that are pre-cut are usually about half that size. So, I buy a 2 – 3 lb chuck, top round, or, as already mentioned, a bottom round roast. Once I get home, I cut the roast into chunks the size of my choosing. Of course, if you prefer smaller pieces, by all means go for it.
Next, let’s look at the vegetables. If you’re considering making stew in a slow cooker, chances are you’ll be setting it up before leaving for work. Unless you have a sous chef, the last thing you’ll want to do is spend time chopping and cleaning your veggies. That’s why I recommend a small bag of new red or Yukon gold potatoes, frozen pearl onions, and organic baby carrots. Only the potatoes need washing and everything can be thrown into the slow cooker as-is. If you prefer, feel free to use any type of carrot, potato, and onion that’s available. Just be sure to cut them into approximately equal-sized pieces so that they cook evenly.
Last to be mentioned is the wine. Although I use a few ounces of wine in this recipe, it’s not necessary and can be skipped, if you like. This isn’t boeuf bourguignon, after all. If you live alone, like I do, opening a bottle of wine just to use a few ounces in a recipe isn’t practical. I certainly don’t want to drink the rest with my dinner and watching it degrade on a counter or in the fridge is not the answer. I’ve found that the mini bottles of wine — about 5.5 ounces each — are the perfect solution. Our supermarkets sell them in sets of four and offer a variety of grapes. I buy one set of red and another of white. If a recipe calls for wine, I can use one of these bottles and have little, if anything, left over. Granted, these wines aren’t going to be of the same quality as those found in my wine rack but, then again, I’m not about to open an expensive bottle of wine just so that I can pour a few ounces into a stew. I’ll leave it for you to decide whether to use wine and, if you do, which one to choose. A general rule of thumb, however, states that if a wine isn’t good enough to drink, one shouldn’t cook with it. So, avoid the “cooking wines” at your grocery.
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Slow Cooker Beef Stew Recipe
yield: 6 – 8 servings
prep time: approx. 30 minutes
cook time: 8 – 9 hours
- One 2 – 3 lb beef roast, cut into 2 – 3 inch chunks (less expensive cuts of meat are fine for this recipe)
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small package of new red or Yukon gold potatoes.
- 1/2 small bag of organic baby carrots
- 1 package frozen pearl onions
- 1/2 package (about 4 oz) button or crimini mushrooms, quartered (more/less may be used according to your preference)
- 1 small bottle (5..5 oz) red wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 – 4 sprigs of thyme
- One 32 oz. box low-salt, fat-free beef stock
- salt & pepper, to taste
- Spray the inside of the slow cooker with your favorite cooking spray.
- Place olive oil in a frying pan and heat over medium-high heat.
- Meanwhile, use paper towels to pat dry the beef chunks, season them with salt & pepper, and place them into the now hot frying pan. DO NOT CROWD. The pieces should not touch each other or they will steam and not brown. You may need to do this in batches. Do not disturb the meat. After 3 minutes, gently lift one piece to see if it has browned. If not, return the piece as it was and wait another few minutes before checking again. Once it is browned, turn it over, as well as all the other chunks in the pan, Repeat this process until all the meat is browned on all sides. Remove the meat and place in the slow cooker. If needed, add a little more olive oil to the frying pan before browning the 2nd, or 3rd, batch of meat.
- Remove the frying pan from the heat, add the wine, and return to medium heat. Use a wooden spoon to scrape off any residue from the pan’s bottom. Once the pan is “clean,” reduce heat to low.
- Sprinkle the flour on top of the meat in the slow cooker. Add the bay leaves and thyme sprigs.
- Add potatoes, carrots, onions, and mushrooms, in that order, to the slow cooker.
- Season with 1/2 tsp salt & 1/8 tsp pepper (more/less if you prefer).
- Pour the now-heated wine over the slow cooker’s contents.
- Add enough beef stock to cover the beef chunks. It’s OK if some of the mushrooms or carrots are above the liquid.
- Set slow cooker on “high” for one hour and then “low” for another 7 hours. Alternately, you can set your cooker on “low” and cook for 9 hours.
- Remove bay leaves & thyme sprigs before serving.
Although not really a variation, I have made this recipe but without the potatoes. I then serve it over a bed of plain rice or one of buttered, wide egg noodles. Before doing so, I check to see if the gravy is thick enough for serving this way. If not, I use a slotted spoon to remove most of the cooker’s content’s to a platter, leaving the liquid behind. Turn the cooker to “high” and while the gravy heats, mix a couple tbsp of corn starch into about a 1/4 cup water. Add to the slow cooker, stir thoroughly, and heat on “high” for 10 minutes before returning the stew meat & veggies to the cooker. By the time everything is heated through, another 5 – 10 minutes, the gravy should be thick and ready to serve.
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