Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Beef stew has come a long way from its humble beginnings. I remember my mother’s “Tuesday-night special” cooked with a tough, dry cut of beef and frozen vegetables - maybe that’s why I became a cook.

Actually, beef stew has many different, tasty versions, including French beef Bourguignon and Viennese beef goulash. Red wine and paprika are the secret ingredients in those dishes.

What really makes a beef stew a standout? The single most important tip is to select the right cut of beef.

I have tried many cuts with mixed results. The biggest problem is that the meat can become dry and stringy, which no sauce can rescue. If you use beef chuck roast, you will have a juicy, tender and flavorful stew.

A stew usually means that pieces of meat or poultry are browned and then slowly cooked over low heat with some liquid. Vegetables are often added for additional flavor. The long, slow cooking in liquid allows the meat to tenderize gradually.

Stews are best made with tougher cuts of meat, which means they are less expensive to prepare, a bonus that we all could use these days.

This stew is my standby for the cold winter months. Chunks of beef chuck are dusted with flour, browned and slowly cooked in wine and stock to bring out the rich beef flavor. Red wine vinegar adds zing to the sauce, and the tomato paste and herbs brighten the stew.

Serve this stew in shallow soup or pasta bowls garnished with parsley. I like to serve a large basket of crusty country bread with the stew. Begin dinner with a simple green salad sprinkled with goat cheese and dressed with a citrus vinaigrette. Accompany this with a hearty zinfandel or merlot wine and use it in the cooking as well.

Help is on the way:

m Letting the stew come to room temperature and then refrigerating overnight will further improve the flavor and also make it much easier to remove any excess fat.

m Add 1 pound of sauteed button mushrooms to the stew when you add the defrosted baby onions.

m Use beer instead of wine.

m Add other winter vegetables such as cut up parsnips or winter squash and cook as for the baby carrots below.

Beef stew with winter vegetables

Makes 6 servings.

3 pounds chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 cup flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

5 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 large yellow onions, sliced

1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced

2 cups beef stock

1 cup red wine like zinfandel or merlot

1/4 cup tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

4 sprigs parsley

1 sprig fresh sage or 1/2 teaspoon dried

3/4 pound baby carrots, peeled

7-ounce bag frozen pearl onions, defrosted

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Pat the meat dry. Place the flour in a lock-top plastic bag and add salt and pepper. Shake it. Place the meat in the bag and seal it. Shake the bag around until the beef is lightly coated with the flour.

In a large Dutch oven, heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the dredged beef pieces to the pan, in batches if necessary, and brown them evenly on all sides, turning with kitchen tongs, about 5 to 7 minutes per batch. Drain the beef pieces and reserve.

Add the vinegar and deglaze the pan by scraping up all the brown bits. Decrease the heat to medium. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and saute the onions for about 12 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until nicely browned. Add the carrots and saute for about 3 minutes or until slightly tender. Add the reserved beef, beef stock, wine, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaf, parsley sprigs and sage.

Cover the casserole and simmer on low heat covered for about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours, stirring occasionally, or until the meat is almost tender.

Add the baby carrots and simmer about 15 minutes or until the carrots and meat are fork tender. Add the pearl onions and cook about 3 more minutes or until just cooked through. Remove the bay leaf. Add salt, pepper and chopped parsley and mix to combine. Season to taste. Serve immediately.

• Diane Rossen Worthington is the author of 18 cookbooks, including “Seriously Simple Holidays.” To contact her, visit


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