7 mistakes you're making with beef stew


Published November 04, 2013

| Bon Appetit

7 mistakes you're making with beef stew

7 mistakes you're making with beef stew

No matter what recipe you follow, these essential beef stew tips will ensure a flavorful, hearty meal throughout the winter.

Mistake: Using any old cut of meat

Using the wrong cut of beef is probably the worst mistake you could ever make when it comes to beef stew. We’ve even tried using cuts of meat that are good for braising—like sirloin—and they just didn’t break down in the same way in a stew. You’re left with chunks of tight, dry meat rather than meltingly tender beef. The only cut you should use? Chuck. Period.

Mistake: Throwing in raw beef

We’ve said it a million times, but it’s always worth repeating: flavor comes from a good sear. Scraping up those caramelized brown bits from the bottom of your pot is going to give your stew a deep, rich flavor. Another important tip: make sure to cook your beef chunks in batches, giving each piece enough room to get really browned. Otherwise, they’ll steam, resulting in gray lumps. Yuck.

Mistake: Throwing in all your ingredients in at the same time

Personally, we like a little bite on our veggies, so we add them with about 45 minutes in cooking time left. This way, they won’t fall apart and get mushy. But they should be fairly soft—otherwise, the stew will be a little more on the soupy side. Also, don’t think you’re restricted to just beef, carrots, and potatoes. Go crazy with hearty herbs like rosemary and thyme, and experiment with veggies like fennel and squash. And don’t be afraid to use spices to give everything a little Indian, Thai, or Moroccan spin. Just make sure you save tender herbs like tarragon, chives, and parsley for last—those are the bright notes that will make your stew more dynamic.

Mistake: Thicken stew to your heart's desire

Beef stew doesn’t need to be super, super thick. You’ll most likely be using potatoes, and their starch will naturally thicken your stew. It’s not a gravy—you shouldn’t be adding a roux or flour or cornstarch. If you do prefer your stew on the thicker side, though, you can toss your beef in flour or cornstarch before you sear it—the bits left behind will thicken your stew and add deeper flavor.

Mistake: Leaving the fat

You want your stew to be rich, but not so decadent that it’s a gut bomb. Skim the top of your stew and remove as much of the fat as you can before serving. If you’re making your stew ahead, skip this step—when you refrigerate, the fat on top will harden, making it easy to get rid of. And just be careful: If you make your stew too thick, it will be too hard to skim.

Mistake: Cook ’til the cows come home

Yes, it is possible to overcook a beef stew. As much as we like the idea of a stew that sits on the stove all day long, too much time will result in dry beef and mushy veggies. It depends on how much stew you’re actually making, but the sweet spot is about 2–3 hours.

Mistake: Serving the stew by itself

C’mon—you need some crusty bread to sop up the leftover bits in the bowl.

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