Random Sunday: Beef Stew

I dedicate this post to my sister-in-law Kate who lurks on the blog, and who just yesterday was telling me the next time she´s at my house she´s going to watch while I make my beef stew, because she wants to figure out what my secret is.   My beef stew is excellent.  It´s not fancy; it´s not fussy.  It´s so easy to make I´ve never bothered to write the recipe down. When the Big Cheese is out of town I´ve been known to eat it three times a day.  I make it all winter long.

So as a public service I decided to write down my recipe, although I´ll give credit where it´s due and note that it´s based on a recipe for boeuf bourguignon in my mother´s 1951 Joy of Cooking.  All amounts are approximate and it´s not an exact science.  I´ll stick to the bare bones and put my nitpicky details at the bottom for people who care.  Bon appetit.

One package (1 – 2 lbs) decent well-marbled beef, I use beef tips*

Two spoonfuls bacon grease** and some crumbled bacon, if you´ve got some

One handful flour

Three medium or two large onions, yellow or white

3 or 4 medium thin-skin potatoes (I use red or white and leave the skin on)***

One bottle red wine****

1. Cut the beef into bite size pieces and dust them with the flour, coating them.

2. On the stove, heat 1 spoonful of bacon grease in your big Dutch oven or stew pot.  Toss the floured meat in there and brown it.  Take the meat out and put it on a plate.

3. Chop up the onions.  Using the same pot, put the other spoon of bacon grease in there and add the onions.  Cook them, stirring occasionally, 10 – 15 minutes until they cook down and caramelize a little.

4. Put the meat back in.  Add your bottle of wine and any seasoning you want (I use salt, pepper and rosemary).  Add crumbled bacon if you have some, 3 – 4 pieces is good.

5. Put the lid on and bake in the oven at 300 degrees for two hours.  Chop up your potatoes into smaller pieces like the meat and add those.  You can throw in some chopped carrots too if you want.*****  Cook another hour.  Et voila.  Serves 6 – 8. 

 Further Notes:

*I get that the point of a long slow-cooking beef stew is to use cheap stew meat, but at least where I live, beef tips from Trader Joe´s don´t cost much more than stew meat from the grocery store, and the meat is more tender and flavorful.

**I keep bacon drippings in my fridge, but you can cook some bacon and throw it in there too.  I´d write the words “leftover bacon” but there´s no such thing as leftover bacon.  Obviously you can skip the bacon grease entirely and use olive oil, but it doesn´t taste the same.

***Or you can use little new potatoes, halved.  Volume-wise, the meat, potatoes and pre-cooked onion are about equal.

****Most wine-based stew recipes call for x amount of wine plus water (the Joy of Cooking recipe is ¾ wine to ¼ water.)  At some point I decided, why not use a whole bottle?  I generally use a decent bottle of cabernet – not top shelf, but not utter crap, either.  If you wouldn´t drink a glass, it doesn´t belong in your food.

*****If you want basic 1950s American-style boeuf bourguignon, leave out the potatoes and carrots, add some sliced mushrooms, and serve it over buttered egg noodles for a fun retro meal that dinner guests plow into.  If you want to add more vegetables and diversify your stew, that´s dandy too.  I don´t add them until the last hour because I find they get a bit soft for my tastes.

PS Here´s a link to Ina Garten´s somewhat similar recipe which gets rave reviews, although I have my doubts about the frozen onions (one commenter found them squishy).  Maybe I´ll try the tomato paste and cognac next time.

Illustration: my father´s drawing on the inside cover of my 1951 Joy of Cooking, rebound several times.  My father gave it to my mother, who literally couldn´t boil an egg.  It makes me smile every time I see it.

  • Cathleen says:

    I made this for visiting family last night and it was quite a hit. I’m a vegetarian, so I could only smell the goodness as I made it. It’s amazing to me that after almost 20 years of not eating meat that I still salivate when I smell good meat cooking. I’ll definitely make it again.

  • Wweezzyy says:

    I made your recipe last night, and it was killer! Thanks for sharing – i usually just make a beef-stew with a beef-brown-gravy kind of base, w/barley so this was way different; i was afraid it might taste to “winey” so I used only 3/4 bottle, but I guess the long cooking takes away that wine-flavor because my family including kids, loved it. Next time I’m going the full bottle. Thanks!!

    • March says:

      Hey, you’re welcome! Glad it was such a hit! PS Not ALL the wine makes it into the stew every time over here either. Some of it may disappear into the cook, a la Julia Child. :d

  • Lavanya says:

    I am a vegetarian so will not be using the recipe but I LOVED LOVED the inscription and the ilustration..Thank you for sharing something so sweet!..*reads the inscription again..and again*

  • Musette says:

    March –

    The stew sounds perfect……. even more perfect: The absolutely charming drawing from your father to your mother! (excellent draftsmanship, btw) 😡 How lovely. As you know (at least from me) my father is completely mad – and he drives my blood pressure through the roof at least 3 times a week – but one of my prized possessions is a little sphinx that my father fashioned out of putty when I was about 11 years old. He was tiling, I was bugging him – he fashioned the Sphinx, gave it to me and told me to get the hell out of there so he could finish the job. A bazillion years later I still have it and smile every time I see it!

    such small things….

    xoxo>-)

  • violetnoir says:

    Darling illustration that your dad created for your mom, March. It’s just so sweet!

    Hugs!

  • MJ says:

    Of course your stew is wonderful – it liberally uses the magic ingredient that can never go wrong – BACON.

    Darn, I’m making this as soon as I find cooking time this week. It’s 20s/teens here, the best weather for meat bacon and wine dishes.

    • March says:

      Um, yeah. Bacon. Show me a bad dish with bacon in it. Although bacon ice cream doesn’t sound that delectable to me. OTOH I loved the Vosges bacon bar, although several of my giftees did not. 🙂

  • March,

    the book looks like a precious memento and the recipe might fine, so thanks on both accounts! Will be trying the bacon tip one of these days (I use olive oil in cooking, true to my roots, but this sounds so bad for you, it must be heavenly-tasting!):)>-

    • March says:

      Wine, bacon and beef are good for the soul. 😉 And I use olive oil in all my other cooking, it imparts such a lovely flavor. @};-

  • Shelley says:

    Aw, I want a picture of the frontspiece myself. That is such a fantastic something. We have a family tradition of inscribing books to each other…I love that kind of stuff….and how wonderful that you have custody of that book. I have my grandmother’s notebook from her high school home ec class… recipes… notes… drawings of sides of beef and pork and such, showing the different cuts…one of my treasures.

    As for meat and pregnancy…I knew something was up at the start of my second pregnancy when I was overcome by a thought obliterating need for RED MEAT. NOW. I was headed out to dinner with a friend, and must have gotten a funny look on my face, because she suggested we be seated and order right away… 😮 ;))

    Thanks for the recipe!

    • March says:

      Oh, I would love a home ec book like that! It must have many wonderful things inside.

      And that’s the other funny thing about pregnancies, or many of them, isn’t it? The hunger is so immediate and huge!

  • Joe says:

    That’s a super sweet inscription and cartoon. Love it. Also love finding recipe cards or notebooks written in a loved one’s hand.

    A beef stew sounds kind of good though I tend to prefer lamb lately. Best beef stew I ever made was a Portuguese-style “Vinho d’Alhos” (wine-garlic) one that I cobbled together from various web recipes and made with a brisket. No vegetables in it, but I served it with potato pancakes. Yum. I’m getting ideas.

    What’s the best perfume to wear with beef stew? 😉

    • March says:

      My husband is a lamb lover, I should get on that. And I’m laughing about perfume because I coincidentally burned the bacon this morning, something I rarely do, and the house (and I) smell quite strongly of bacon, it really hits you when you walk in from outside. OTOH I can think of worse things. 🙂

  • Francesca says:

    Yum! Sounds great. Thanks! I try to do vegetarian meals, but the last time, a great roasted root veg and pasta dish, my husband said it was too health-foody. Gotta try your recipe.

    The cartoons and inscription on the book were lovely. What a delightful thing to have.

    • March says:

      Um, I bet your husband would like this one! My husband eschews the noodle variation as unhealthy… but gosh it’s good.

      It is a lovely inscription, and part of my mother’s life (her notes are in there) so it’s particularly special to me. 😡

  • Nava says:

    You’ve reminded me of my mom’s cooking this morning and how I should kick myself repeatedly for not paying closer attention when I was younger. Her specialty was stuffed cabbage, and I am totally devoid of skill when it comes to making any type of homey Jewish specialty. My attempts at potato latkes have been futile and although I have the requisite pot, I have never, ever felt brave enough to cobble together a homemade chicken soup.

    I’m surprised that any of Ina Garten’s recipes would include anything frozen. I’ve watched enough episodes of “Barefoot Contessa” to hear her insistence of “good” this and “good” that in my sleep. By the way, her mushroom risotto recipe from her latest book, “Back to Basics” is amazing.

    • March says:

      You know what makes me sad? My mother made the best macaroni and cheese casserole. My job was to grate the cheese. She buttered white bread and cubed it and put it on top to brown in the oven. It was the simplest dish possible (I remember elbow noodles and milk and maybe nutmeg?) and I’ve tried dozens of online variations and never found one that tasted exactly right. 🙁 I lost her little file box of recipes in a long-ago move and have pretty much found everything else, but on certain nights I long for her mac and cheese. But maybe it’s one of those things that would never taste right unless it was in her Pyrex dish in that oven…

      I bet you could do a chicken soup. I’m mostly too lazy, but homemade chicken soup is so good! I buy mine from the nearby Jewish deli when I’m sick 🙂

      I was surprised too about the onions. It kind of sticks out in an otherwise delicious-sounding recipe. It’s not that I have some moral objection to frozen pearl onions, but just to dump them frozen into the pot? 😮

      • Nava says:

        Try this mac and cheese recipe; I’ve made it many times and it always comes out perfect. 🙂

        http://www.marthastewart.com/article/perfect-macaroni-and-cheese?autonomy_kw=macaroni%20+%20cheese&rsc=header_2

        I have no objection to frozen pearl onions either, but they resemble marbles no matter how long you cook them for. I personally prefer shallots, but that’s just me. :”>

      • rosarita says:

        I loved my mom’s (grandma’s) mac & cheese. They layered the macaroni w/crushed saltine crackers and dotted the top w/ big hunks of butter. I make it sometimes, but to my chagrin, my daughter only liked orange Kraft mac & cheese in the blue box…a reaction from her early childhood, no doubt, when I was the kind of leftover hippie mom who made my own baby food from homegrown veggies and never let her have white bread. 8-| I tried, but my husband’s southern family introduced her to the joys of Dr. Pepper and bologna and doughnuts and who can fight that? (she’s turned out to be a really good cook and loves to garden, so it wasn’t all for naught) 🙂

    • Musette says:

      Chicken soup, falling-down easy:
      (I make it at least once a week during the winter months and, like March with her stew, can easily eat it 3x day)

      Make a mirepoix (carrots/celery/onions) –
      Saute lightly with about 1/2 t fennel seeds
      4 cloves of garlic, either sliced or minced or just whole….
      about 1/2 T of garlic powder
      1 T of sugar
      salt to taste

      Take a rotisserie chicken (I refuse to go through the whole ‘boil a chicken anymore, though you can if you want – and the roasting actually seems to deepen the chicken flavor) – throw it in a pot (skin and all) with some water, bring to a quick boil for maybe 7 mins or so (no particular time on this – it’ll be fine if you leave it on there a bit longer. I also do a quick boil/low simmer deal for about 20 mins total) – you will get some excellent broth from it. Pull the chicken meat off the carcass. Add one can of chicken broth to augment what’s already in the pot. Add some red pepper flakes and the sugar and salt and you’re good to go.

      Note: if you want to make chicken-noodle soup and it’s not going to be served immediately, make sure you par-boil the noodles and leave them in the water until you’re ready – otherwise they will soak up all the soup broth. Once they’ve reached maximum absorption you can incorporate them into the soup.

      I’m part Latin so I tend to use a LOT of pepper and also add cilantro but that’s not a requirement (yeah, March, I know how Very Much you love cilantro)

      xo>-)

      • March says:

        Yum. Even I could do this. And I love your shortcuts. And shall I mention that Trader Joe’s SELLS fresh mirepoix for those of us who are terminally lazy and/or inept?

  • Louise says:

    Mmmmm. What time is dinner 😡 ? I’ll bring red wines crusty baguette, salad, and a chocolate cheesecake-you know, light accompaniments…

    Wow, and I get laughed at for eating lasagna for breakfast 8-|

    • Nava says:

      Linguine with red clam sauce is the breakfast of champions. :d

    • March says:

      You know they’re out there, just like us. There’s probably a group on facebook — People who eat salty/savory dinner foods for breakfast.

      Cold pizza. Lasagne. Stew. Yummm.

    • Joe says:

      Ooh, I’m excited that I see eye to eye with you guys on this one too — I knew there must be a reason I like this place. 😉

      Cold leftover Chinese or Thai food is about the best breakfast I can imagine. Favorites are Moo-Shu Pork or Panang Fried Fish. Who needs Wheaties?

      • March says:

        Yes! We always order extra Thai just because (ahem) someone wants leftovers. For breakfast. Of course, you could argue that in Thailand and Vietnam (and probably China?) the stuff they’re eating for breakfast, as far as I could tell, is not different from the other meals. 😕 I love pho for breakfast. Or lunch. Elevenses… afternoon tea… I need some pho recipes, it can’t be that hard to make.

        • Joe says:

          Now, with pho, I only ever want it when it’s really cold or when I’m sick. Most other Asian food though… any time, day or night (2am walks past the refrigerator… check!).

          A friend of mine who lived in Thailand for 18 months and who loves Thai food told me that the hardest thing for her to handle was breakfast because all the Thais she knew basically just ate cold dried fish with cold rice… all she wanted was some decent coffee and toast and she said that was darn near impossible to find. I’ll have to ask her what she ended up eating most mornings.

          • March says:

            We stayed in hotels that provided breakfast (western and Japanese) so I don’t know what everyone else ate. I was happy with eggs, although the Cheese was loving the sushi breakfasts. /:)

  • Catherine says:

    This recipe sounds marvelous, March. I can’t wait to try it out. A good and *simple to make* stew would be an excellent addition to my endless rounds of bread, cheese, soup, dessert, bread, cheese, soup, dessert. Don’t get me wrong. I like what I eat. A hearty stew with wine and potatoes, however, sounds like a blessed feast for winter.

    • March says:

      Um, gosh, to my ears, a diet of bread, cheese, soup and dessert sounds pretty heavenly! When the girls and I want to torture ourselves, we debate which delectable food group we’d give up for the rest of our lives if we had to.

  • Lee says:

    Like erin, I’m a stewaphobe. Dear god, the cheap rubbish our poor (financially, and long-suffering too) family had to consume in the 70s. Lamb stew always had cartilaginous tubes of something in it (along with more pearl barley than, well, a bag of pearl barley); beef stew was a nigh-on inedible gristlefest. Now wonder I gave up on meat at 13 (I’d chew and chew, then sneak off to the loo and spit the bolus down the cistern…)

    But yours sounds very comforting… And the title page of that book is a delight to have. Love the ‘happy cooking, cutie’, at the bottom!

    • erin says:

      “…sneak off to the loo and spit the bolus down the cistern…”

      Ha! Well played, Lee (enthusiastic golf clap). That is a brilliant description of the sufferings of stewaphobia. We should start a support group.

      Do you remember the grey foamy bubbles on the surface of the pot? That image still makes my palms sweaty….

      Okay. Must. Read. Graduate. Admissions. No more goofing around…

      It’d help if you guys weren’t such pleasant company!

    • March says:

      Ugh, that’s horrible! And I retained a suspicion of stew for years as a place for people to offload their most disgusting meats and rotting vegetables. My stew is very simple texturally (I have latent texture issues with food) and born more of a revelation after eating boeuf bourguignon than a desire to recycle bits of junk into “food.” 🙂 What could be more comforting than caramelized onions (the original recipe calls for 12!), red wine and good meat, cooked for hours? I added the potatoes as a starch in lieu of the separate noodles.

      The first thing my mother ever tried to cook was hard boiled eggs. She figured, eggs are hard, so you boil them for … what, an hour? They exploded of course.

    • Aparatchick says:

      “Lamb stew always had cartilaginous tubes of something in it” 😮 Oh dear God, Lee, I had managed to repress the memory of those things (and please, nobody post telling me what they are, I’ll just :[email protected] ).

      I come from a long line of infamously bad cooks, all of whom depended on their copy of Joy to get something edible on the table. Yes, March, the instructions are perfect for that: “stand facing the stove …”

  • erin says:

    I have stew trauma left over from childhood (my father often made what he called “French stew”–otherwise known as a gristly pot of goo–when my mother left us to his devices. Seriously, there’d be eyeballs, elbows and God-knows-what lurking under the surface in there). But your recipe is very tempting, even to a stewaphobe like me. Maybe it’s time to face my fears…

    So I’m thinking of trying it tonight, but with shallots since I have them on hand. And maybe some rosemary. How do you spice yours? Just salt and pepper?

    • March says:

      Shudder. That sounds horrible. Yes, I think shallots would be lovely, and whatever seasonings you like. Yes, I generally just use salt and pepper. I’m mostly after the flavor of the wine and bacon and caramelized onions, so I don’t put much else in there. 🙂

  • rosarita says:

    The stew sounds delicious, and just the thing for this time of year when the monotony of snow & cold makes everyone a little stir crazy @-)This would be wonderful to cook and invite a few friends in to play board games. With a plate of Musette’s brownies for afters. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing the inscription; what a treasure. @};-

    • March says:

      And thanks for stopping by! Yes, this time of year is a bit … much. At least it’s Feb 1, yay! Bringing us one step closer to spring. Of course Feb. feels two months long…

  • Alt godt says:

    In Norway we buy wine in Sweden… 😆 I ad a teaspoon of sugar towards the end, I think it rounds off the taste nicely, especially when you use as much wine as you (and I) do.

    • March says:

      Heh heh, of course assuming that I didn’t pinch a glass or two while cooking it… 😉 We’re trying to figure out a family trip to Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

    • well, i’ll be at his place in oslo for five weeks in februari/march, so we do plan a trip to sweden to visit his family and buy cheap meat and alcohol. well. it’s almost ironic that i as a german find alcohol in sweden cheap. but. you know. it all lies in the relations.

  • this sounds fantastic! i’d make it for my boyfriend the next time i’m at his place, but sadly enough he lives in norway where you’d have to spend a little fortune even on a crappy bottle of wine, so i don’t see it happen in the near future..

  • Flora says:

    What an adorable story, and that recipe sounds yummy! I wish I had seen it before I went to the store today – I saw some nice but cheap beef but I could not think what I wanted to do with it. I must make something very like his soon! (I experiment a lot with recipes too, I almost never make anything the same way twice.)

    • March says:

      Yeah, I stuck it up early hoping to catch people before their Super Bowl shopping. 🙂 We’re eating ours tonight… did I mention letting it sit around for a day only makes it better?

      We don’t eat a ton of meat. In fact, this is the only beef I can think of that we eat, it’s so comforting this time of year.

  • Melissa says:

    The stew recipe sounds scrumptious, but most of all, I am grinning over the inscription on the cookbook. Like just about every family in the US at that time, we had a well used copy of the Joy of Cooking in our kitchen. Now I am curious to find out whether my father still has the old battered copy that I remember from the sixties. Both of my parents used the book and I remember a few cooking lessons taught from it. At some point in my early adulthood, my father gave me a copy, which I use to this day, probably out of habit and a sense of nostalgia.

    • March says:

      I use it all the time for basic recipes, and there are some great things about it. For one, the authors don’t assume a ton of basic knowledge about cooking, so they explain everything. It’s a good reference. And from a cultural perspective it’s a riot. They explain how to cook *everything* – all sorts of recipes for brains, entrails, etc. My girls like to read those just for the horror of it. Their cookie recipes are excellent. Sometimes all I want is a good casserole, you know?

  • tmp00 says:

    I like the idea of the pearl onions but am not sure about frozen. Or for that matter, tomato paste. Cognac is a bit of an affectation, methinks. I would love to try yours, I can imagine it must be heaven on a cold night. :d

    • March says:

      I think I’d thaw the onions and brown them first. Also I probably wouldn’t burn the cognac off, just leave it in there in its boozy glory. 🙂

  • Robin says:

    Hey March! Feels like I’ve been glued to my computer for the past 72 hours (and I probably have). Am going to close my eyes and wish very hard and see if that conjures up some lovely stew…

    • March says:

      Bless your heart. Well, you are much more organized about your change-over than we are. We just did the switch and then said, ruh roh… /:)

  • Rappleyea says:

    I’m a vegetarian and you’ve got my mouth watering! Back in the day when I did eat beef, I also had a recipe similar to your note at the end for American-style boeuf bourguignon, with the additional change of substituting a can of beer for the wine. That recipe came from the Little Rock Cooks cookbook – one of the best regional cookbooks I’ve ever used.

    Loved the inscription from your Dad on the cookbook – what a family treasure. Thanks so much for sharing on this frigid, ice-covered Sat. night.

    • March says:

      I was a vegetarian (or more accurately, a pescetarian) for 25 years until pregnant with the twins, and my constant, overwhelming anemia did me in. 🙂 All I wanted, all the time, was rare meat. The Cheese almost wrecked the car early on when I announced on the interstate that I was famished (as usual) and wanted … a double cheeseburger from MacDonalds? We do a lot of meatless meals. I’ve actually tinkered with this recipe, trying to make a rich vegetable stew…

      • rappleyea says:

        I LOL at the double cheeseburger! From time to time I crave those, no other kinds of meat, but cheeseburgers. I’m not sure how my digestive system would react though.

        I can help you on the rich vegetable stew part…. vegetable broth, red wine and the a couple of tablespoons of *dark* miso (the paste kind in the plastic tubs in the refrigerated section) make a very respectable, rich “meat-like” base.

        • Liesl says:

          I can help on the veg. part, too?  Try using mushroom powder and/or stock.  Shrooms add a richness not present in good ol’ vegetable stock.  I love your miso idea– will have to try that one. :)  I’m afraid that’s what will happen if I was to become pregnant, though I imagine I’d fight it as long as I could.  March, were you sick to your stomach after the cheeseburger, or did it just sort of blend in with morning sickness? 

          • March says:

            That sounds great, I’ll try a combo of yours and the miso. I need to make a run to the co-op, I know they have both of these.

            My first two pregnancies I was fine, although mildly anemic and I had pica, which presented its own issues. It was the twins that did me in. A multiple pregnancy is an entirely different kettle of fish. I researched and followed kind of a radical diet with the twins (spent much of my pregnancy arguing with my OB/GYN about it) trying to produce the maximum-size babies, and ultimately I was right. 🙂 Really, though, for a singleton pregnancy you should be fine.

        • March says:

          Wow, that sounds perfect! I really want a good vegetable stew and this sounds like a wonderful salty/savory way to get the kind of base I’m looking for.

  • Kelly says:

    March, what a beautiful keepsake! I’m deeply touched by the sweetness, the cuteness, and the intimacy of the inscription. Thanks for sharing. And the stew sounds good, too. 🙂

    • March says:

      Thanks. My dad cartooned all the time with my mother (and with me when I was a kid) and I still have a lot of them. He was a lifelong government employee and pooh-poohs his artistic talent, but he has a few paintings and drawings and I think his illustrations are wonderful.