Now that the weather has cooled, I’ve decided to go on a quest for great beef stew. I developed one for the stovetop/oven that I adore (which I just realized I never wrote down so I may have to start that quest all over again 😦 ) and am now trying to create one for the slow cooker.
My mission: to make a slow cooker beef stew that requires as little prep as possible that also yields great flavor and a rich thick gravy without resorting to canned condensed soup. And tender, flavorful beef, of course!
Usually I buy a whole chuck-eye roast and cut it up myself because those packages labeled “Stew beef” often have bits and pieces of meat from different cuts, so stews aren’t consistent from batch to batch. This is the first time I’ve seen packages of cut-up beef labeled “Chuck beef for stew” at my local supermarket, and it was also priced only a few cents more than the whole chuck roast per pound. As convenience is the name of the game when it comes to slow cookery, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try the cut-up meat to save myself the effort and time. Having said all that, I’d still go for the chuck-eye roast or another large cut of beef well-marbled with fat and butcher it myself if I had an extra five minutes or the energy to spare.
I was kind of torn about whether I ought to brown the meat. Slow cookers are meant to be convenience tools; it doesn’t seem very convenient to stand over a stove to brown beef before putting it into the crock pot. It’s kind of like washing your dishes before putting them into the dishwasher. I decided not to do any browning just to see how this stew would come out. A decent compromise might be to spread the cubes of beef across a baking sheet and broil them for a few minutes to get some of that caramelized flavor, and maybe I’ll do that next time.
Armed with onions, garlic, celery, baby carrots, a few sprigs of thyme and a scant tablespoon of rosemary, I set about making beef stew. First I cut up the aromatics, then coated each piece of beef with flour before placing the veggies on the bottom and then the beef. Sprinkled the beef with freshly ground black pepper and a little salt, topped the whole thing with waxy red potatoes cut into 1.5-inch pieces, and tossed in the thyme and rosemary before pouring in some beef stock and setting the slow cooker to Low.
Nine hours later, I had tender, moist beef stew. However, it was not a complete success; my brother confessed to wishing it was saltier (I’d added only the barest amount of salt to the crock owing to the presence of soy sauce, which is quite salty by itself) and with a richer, more complex sauce, perhaps with some good red wine (which I didn’t have) to help boost the flavor. The former was easy to address, but the issue of richness and complexity was harder to fix.
To give the gravy a little more body, I dissolved a packet of gelatin in some boiling water and added that to the crock pot. Next, I stirred in a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce to mimic the acidity and boldness of red wine. I didn’t want to add too much more because I was afraid it would take on a sweet tangy taste.
Wow, what a difference those two ingredients made! The Worcestershire sauce can be added along with the other stew ingredients. The gelatin has to be bloomed in hot water first before being stirred into the pot but I don’t see a reason not to add in the bloomed gelatin at the beginning too as long as it’s well-incorporated into the liquid.
This was truly the easiest beef stew I’ve ever made!
Slow Cooker Beef Stew
- 2 lbs chuck-eye roast, cut into 1.5-inch pieces
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup flour
- 2 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 lb baby carrots
- 1 Tbs tomato paste
- 1 1/4 cups College Inn Bold Stock beef stock
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 Tbs soy sauce
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 lb waxy potatoes, cut into 1.5-inch pieces
- 1 Tbs rosemary
- 3 sprigs thyme
Serve with roasted Brussels sprouts, spinach salad with candied walnuts, dried cranberries, crumbled Roquefort, and pancetta with a simple balsamic vinaigrette.