I have a few tricks up my sleeve for making an exceptional, stand-out stew. The first one you will thank me for. Instead of browning the meat on top of the stove, which is extremely messy and time consuming, I cook the stew uncovered in the oven. The open pot allows the meat on top to become brown and flavorful. While the meat is cooking, the liquid is reducing, which is concentrating its flavor and thickening it.
The right Wine
One of the major contributors to making a hearty and flavorful stew is red wine. I wish I could tell you that I love writing this blog so much that I am willing to make stew a dozen times just to find out which red wine works best. While I don't mind testing a chocolate cake numerous times, stew is a different story. Instead of testing wines myself, I go to my most trusted food source, Cook's Illustrated magazine. They have tested stews with cabs, zins, syrahs, pinots, etc and here's their advice. The best stew is made with a blended red wine and their recommendation is Côtes du Rhône. Côtes du Rhône are the basic AOC wines of the Rhône region in France and their reds are a blend most likely dominated by Grenache. Whenever I make stew or braise any kind of red meat, I always make it with Cotes du Rhone and get stellar results.
The Right Meat
My favorite meat for stew is chuck eye-roast and although it is a little time consuming to cut it up, I think it is worth it. You need to purchase 3 1/2 to 4 pounds of chuck roast to end up with 3 pounds of meat by the time you've trimmed off the fat. Any good lean beef stew meat will be fine, too.
One of stews greatest traits is that it warms the soul while warming the body. It also has everything you need in one dish, no sides needed. The meat will be so tender, no knives needed either. So get out your fork and dig in.
Beef Stew With Côtes Du Rhône & Balsamic
4 pounds chuck eye-roast, trimmed, or 3 pounds lean beef stew,cut into 1½ inch pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups dry red wine, such as Côtes du Rhône
1 cup beef broth
2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
1½ lbs. baby carrots, unpeeled or large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1½ lbs. small potatoes, such as Sunrise Medley or Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1½ lbs. baby turnips or larger ones, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Place oven rack in lower middle of oven and heat oven to 325°F. Season beef generously with salt and pepper.
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook onions with 1/4 teaspoon salt, stirring occasionally until well browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Whisk in wine, broth, balsamic and tomato paste, scraping up any brown bits. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in thyme and beef and bring to a slow boil.
Transfer pot to oven and cook, uncovered, for 90 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking.
Stir in carrots, potatoes and turnips. Continue cooking until beef and vegetables are tender, about 1 1/2 hours, stirring halfway through cooking. If stew is desired thickness before vegetables are tender, cover pot and continue cooking until done.
TO MAKE AHEAD: Place a sheet of wax paper directly on top of the meat and veggies to prevent them from drying out. Stew may be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen. I even leave the wax paper on when freezing, but remove it before reheating.
Season to taste with salt, pepper and balsamic, if desired.
Makes 6 generous servings.