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.
*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.