Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Beef Stew, Sans Recipe

I know the saying is, “As easy as pie,” but I've never found pie to be that simple. Especially if you make the crust from scratch, a skill I’m still trying to master.

On the other hand, stew is so easy to put together, no recipe is required. Just look in your pantry, freezer and fridge. I bet all of the ingredients are there for a yummy stew, be it chicken or beef.

So, you want to make a stew but are unsure where to start? Take a moment and close your eyes. Imagine the stew you desire. How does it taste? What vegetables do you see floating in the broth? What flavors do you taste? Now, go!

It's hard to mess up stew—or soup, for that matter—because the flavors can be adjusted along the way so the finished dish tastes the way you like. Just remember the rule of “less is more.” Start with small amounts of salt, pepper, herbs, spices, etc. You can always add more if needed, but it is difficult to fix if you use too much.

The one skill required for stew making is knowing how to thicken the broth, which is done a short while before serving. I make a slurry of water and flour, shaken in a jar. (Two to three parts water to one part flour—it should be a thick liquid.) Then I pour part of the mixture into the stew, let it come to a simmer to see if it thickens enough, and add more if necessary.

For this beef stew, I threw everything into my slow cooker—one-inch chunks of chuck roast, carrots, potatoes, celery, and onion. (I considered adding tomatoes, peas or green beans, but decided not to this time.) I poured in some low-sodium beef broth and, thinking of Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon, added half a glass of red wine. For seasoning, I used dried thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper. On went the slow cooker. I used my flour slurry to thicken it about an hour before serving. By the end of the day, I had a rich, hearty stew to enjoy for a mid-winter supper.

The next time you are in the mood for stew—or soup—be brave and skip the recipe. Let your own tastes shine through. Oh, and be sure to tell me what you tried and how it turned out! 


  1. Yum! The only step I'd add, Linda, is to coat the meat chunks with flour and salt and pepper and brown them in a bit of butter or olive oil first ... I think the meat saute develops flavour for the gravy that way. Thoughts on that? You've given me a hankering for some stew! It's cold here and it will taste terrific! Thanks, dearie!

  2. Susan, I have seared the meat for the stew first in the past. It is a good idea, especially if you don't have beef broth to add. However, when I'm using a slow cooker, it is typically early in the morning and I just can't be bothered with this step. :-) I don't find that searing the meat improves it flavor much, so I don't.

  3. Hi Linda!
    I've never been able to master the pie crust thing either. I don't say easy as pie anymore:) Although, Marjie, from Modern Day Ozzie and Harriet, shared her recipe with me which goes in the food processor and finally I have a pie crust I can manage. Let me know if you want to give it a try. Or drop by Marjie's she'll be thrilled to share:)

    I actually made a chicken stew yesterday but not in the crock. I'm trying to get Marion fattened up after her hospital stay and you know what they say about chicken soup, lol...The stew came out good slowly cooked in the oven. It warmed up the house and smelled oh so good too!

    I love beef stew in the crock and like you, I no longer bother with coating the meat with flour. (I do if I'm making it on the stove though:)

    Your stew sounds comfoting and delicious. No recipe required:) Makes me want to have some right now!

    Thank you so much for sharing, Linda...

  4. Sounds like a great recipe - d'ya think it would work with pork or chicken? I don't like beef...

    I'm so with you on pie - unless it's a simple crock pot pie, topped with potato, then I need a recipe!

  5. Emma, I'm not sure about pork, but it would be great with chicken. I would add whole pieces of chicken, without the skin to cut down on the fat, and let them simmer until the meat is falling off the bones. Then I would remove the chicken pieces, discard the bones, and shed up the meat into bite-sized pieces. It would be delicious!

  6. I imagine vegetables are very melty if you cook all ingredients at once! I've always been scared to do this way because I thought may be vegetables would turn into mash...
    Let's try!

  7. Sylvie, I wondered about that too the first time I tried it years ago, but I didn't have any problems. Notice I keep the potato and carrot pieces on the large size.