I have to admit. Comfort foods never fail to provide that soothing feeling. Even so, those who have them don't take time to understand how each dish ends up on their plate.
One of the most common comfort foods in my life is beef stew. My grandmother used to make it for my brother and me during rainy summer evenings when we were kids.
Find the recipe details here: Beef Stew Slow Cooker Recipe
When I got older, I started to appreciate what comfort foods can do. I acknowledge all foods like this, but I always veered toward the beef stew.
Like spaghetti and meatballs or apple pie, beef stew is a comfort dish that no one questions at all. These dishes can turn your bad day into a good one.
It makes you wonder if there are common mistakes to avoid when making beef stew.
That is fine. The option of not questioning the beef stew recipe is a way to respect the recipe, which has been passed down from generation to generation. Yet, what if there are some mistakes in creating this dish?
What if you have been making this mistake?
Failing to pay attention will result in a catastrophe. You will end up with band broth, overcooked vegetables, and tough meat. It's a good thing these issues do not take a lot of time to correct. Making some adjustments can make the stew worthy of a dinner guest.
Mistakes to avoid when cooking beef stew
The broth's consistency, seasonings, and cut of meat are vital things to consider. The common mistakes in making beef stew must be avoided. That way, you will not need to deal with them anymore.
1 Using the wrong cut of meat.
Filet mignon and marbled ribeye may attract you to the meat section.
Note that these are not for making stews. Using them would only waste them. These luxurious cuts are too tender and lean for simmering or braising. You will only have shrunken pieces of dried-up beef.
They will not look good in any bowl, even if there are vegetables around them.
Getting tougher, heartier cuts of beef are suitable. You will need meat a substantial amount of collagen-rich fat and connective tissue. These will break down and dissolve gradually during your slow cooking process.
What kind of meat to use in beef stew?
Always look for a rump or round roast (meat from the rear) and a chuck roast (front of the shoulder). This will lead to tender cuts of flavorful, tender, and moist beef. In my book, chuck is the only meat fit for beef stew. And that is final.
These cuts are both chewy if you cook them in just under an hour. Simmering or braising them will allow the fat and collagen in between the lean meats to melt.
These will also tenderize the proteins of the meat. They also add more body and flavor to the beef stew.
The added benefit: These cuts of beef are inexpensive. They will fit your budget better than the fancy cuts in the market.
2 Cooking the vegetables too long
Most people rely on the beef stew to save time by placing all the ingredients in the pot and forgetting it. A delicious beef stew still needs a watchful eye.
Relying on time alone is one of the common mistakes to avoid when making beef stew. It takes more than the broth and the meat cuts in making this dish. You need to add in the vegetables you want. They balance the flavor of the dish.
Potatoes, onions, and carrots help add more body to the broth. Even so, you should not just put them all into the broth and forget them. Always remember that you should cook them the right way as well.
The beef cuts need to cook longer than the vegetables. The meat cuts need to tenderize enough during this time. Added in the vegetables simultaneously as the meat cuts will subject the vegetables to the same temperature and cooking time.
The vegetables will be mush by the time the stew is done. Braising should always come first. This will only involve the meat.
Once the meat cuts are fork-tender, add in the vegetables. Then, leave them to cook until they are tender enough. This will prevent them from turning into baby food.
3 Adding in raw beef
Sear the beef. Searing always locks in flavor. This is what I have always practiced. My grandmother always reminded me of it as I watched her cook before.
Using the same pot for searing can deglaze the bottom of the pot, lifting the brown bits that can give the stew a rich, deep flavor.
It can be tempting to throw everything into the pot, especially if you are pressed for time. This is not a good thing. I have tried this before to follow some slow cooker recipes, but the meat did not give me the flavor I expected. The flavor in the meat will not be there at all.
What you should do:
- Take the chill off. Allowing the meat to reach room temperature before searing or browning lets the meat relax. Hence preparing its natural moisture to re-absorb into the muscle instead of being stuck between the meat's fibers.
- Sear your beef cuts. This will add a deep, meaty, savory flavor to the beef stew. This is always the first step before braising meat.
- You can use a deep pot or a Dutch oven for searing. This will allow you to keep the brown bits after searing. Then, you can use the pot to make the beef stew.
- Overcrowding is one of the common mistakes to avoid when making beef stew. When searing, keeping medium-high heat is ideal. Keep the pieces of meat apart. Be sure to caramelize each meat cut side without cooking it inside.
- Removing the seared meat pieces will give more room for the other pieces of meat while searing. Just repeat until each beef cut is seared.
Why you should do this:
Caramelizing the meat adds extra flavor to the stew. You can scrape up the brown bits with a wooden spoon as you pour in the broth. The flavor bits will infuse the broth with a richer flavor.
Using a slow cooker is convenient. Searing the beef stew meat pieces in a separate pan is okay. Even so, helping it do its job will make the beef stew as delicious as it can be.
Just remember to deglaze the pan you used and pour all those beautiful flavors into the slow cooker. After resting into the slow cooker with the broth, placing the seared meat pieces will continue the cooking process.
4 Overcooking the meat
There is something always romantic about simmering stew on the stovetop. It often projected a picture of comfort after a tiring day.
Yet, cooking the meat all day will only give you dry, stringy, and tough meat. This is one of the common mistakes to avoid when making beef stew.
Here are some ways you can overcook your meat in your beef stew:
1 Letting your stew simmer too long
This depends on your preference. Do you want your meat to be tender and stringy, falling off into fibers, or just tender enough to cut with a spoon without breaking down into fibers?
Be sure not to go past the stringiness kind of tender. Going beyond this will make your meat inedible and dry.
2 Overcooking the meat can also happen with very high temperatures.
Proteins in the meat will become tough if you do not cook it low and slow. Low heat is ideal. Do not use a rolling boil. The fat and collagen will not break down enough, yielding inedible and rubbery meat cuts.
5 Undercooking the meat
Tender and silky meat should be the meat in your stew. It is not like the meat you get when you order steak.
The meat has to blend well with the stew itself. The method is slow cooking. Making such a delicious dish can make you impatient. The delectable sell filling the entire house can tempt you enough to stop the cooking process ahead of the ideal cooking time.
This is one of the common mistakes to avoid when making beef stew.
Remember that slow cooking ensures the melting of fats and collagen. These components will dissolve into the broth, adding more flavor and richness.
The cuts of meat will be tender enough to cut with a spoon or fork. That is why you should never use lean meats for cooking beef stew. They have no fat, so you will end up with tough stew meat. You need the collagen and fats to melt into the broth. This will make the tough, fatty beef cut tender and delicious.
6 Forgetting the aromatics for the beef stew
The last thing you need is to have a beef stew that tastes as it came out of a can. This will taste bland. A bland beef stew is not what you want to serve your guests with some crusty bread and a good bottle of red wine.
What is the secret?
Aromatics will make your beef stew as unique and as delicious as you want it to be. Adding spices, garlic, onions, and fresh herbs is the key.
Here are some tips you need to remember:
- Sear the meat cuts first.
- Sauté the celery, onions, garlic, and carrots. As you sauté, scrape the bottom of the pot. Doing so will give your beef stew a lot of flavors once it starts to simmer.
- Add in the spices when the vegetables are tender. You can add onion powder, paprika, black pepper, bay leaves, and garlic powder.
- You can change the flavor profile a little by adding coriander, cumin, cinnamon, and star anise. You can put in other spices to make it the Mediterranean, Moroccan, or whatever flavor you want. Experiment is the key.
- Pour the liquid into the pot. Add fresh or dried herbs (bay leaf, rosemary, or thyme). This will add more flavor. You can use these herbs for garnish when you serve.
7 Using plain water or salty stock
Infusing more flavor into your beef stew or Calderata will also make it delicious. The flavors must settle within the cuts of meat.
Meat in a beef stew is not like steak or roast meats whose flavors are concentrated on the surface. Infusing the liquid with flavors will make a huge difference.
Below are some of the things you should watch out for:
Stock from the store can be very salty.
You might end up with a very salty beef stew if you add in the salty stock. This can also happen if you plan to reduce the broth to thicken the stew.
The water will evaporate and make the broth concentrated. The unsalted or low-sodium broth is better than regular broth.
Plain water will not be enough.
Plain water can work, but its flavor will not bold the beef stew in zing.
Beef stock substitute
If you do not have access to beef stock, you can use mushroom, vegetable, or chicken stock instead. You can dissolve bouillon powder, paste, or cubes. Be mindful of the salt level.
8 Failing to check the seasoning before serving
Now that you added everything that you can to flavor your beef stew. You seared your meats and added in the aromatics. Assuming the stew will taste great is not a good thing.
Tasting the final product is always wise, especially if you plan to impress or feed a crowd. Failing to do so is one of the mistakes to avoid when making beef stew.
The salt content is always something you may need to change. If you use a low-sodium broth or stock, you may need to add more salt to it before serving.
If it is almost salty but lacks some flavor, you can add some drops of Worcestershire sauce, sark seasoning, or soy sauce. You can also add in some powdered gravy. Any of these might be the secret to your beef stew's deliciousness.
Your stew might need some sugar.
A slight sweetness could add some caramelized hint, significantly if you did not have enough brown the onions or meat. Some sweetness can also balance the stew's saltiness.
It is easy to skip the seasoning check if you have been cooking all day. It would be best if you still did this to save you the regret of not taking that extra effort.
If you don't want to add regular sugar, you can add some honey or corn kernels.
9 Thickening the stew too much
Everyone imagines beef stew to be rich and silky. The broth must be smooth on the tongue. The thickness of the gravy must be just right. Be careful not to thicken it too much that it turns into a paste when it gets cold.
How to thicken beef stew
Some old recipes use cornstarch or a slurry to thicken the stew's broth.
You should thicken the stew just enough but not like a bowl of glop when you serve it. This will dull the flavor of your casserole. Thickening the stew so much could hide the umami flavor of the stew.
The beef broth should thicken naturally while the broth cooks. The collagen from the beef and the potatoes will help thicken the stew. They will also add body to the broth.
Dusting the beef cubes with flour can help thicken the broth as well. Doing this before searing them can help produce a crust around the meat cuts and leave some flour at the bottom of the pot for thickening. This type of thickening will not remove any of the texture or flavor.
10 Failing to skim the fat
Well-marbled beef can make the stew more luscious and rich. The gelatin, beef, and collagen from the beef will render into the stock, and you slow cook the meat.
This will leave a layer of fat on the top of the stew. This is not a palatable thing to see if this layer of fat will prevent you from tasting all the flavors of the beef stew.
You can use a spoon to skim off the fat floating on the surface after cooking. You can also use a ladle or a big serving spoon to do this.
You may not get all the fat, and this is fine. The remaining fat will maintain the richness of your beef stew.
Trimming off large pieces of fat on the pieces of meat before searing them. Cooking these pieces of meat will prevent your stew from flooding with fat.
This can be a lot easier by placing the stew in the fridge. After a while, pull the stew out and scrape the hardened fat layer at the surface of the stew. Any extra fat left will melt away into the broth and make it rich and shiny.
11 Failing to add a little acid
This is also one of the common mistakes to avoid when making beef stew. This dish is heavy and rich. The sides can also weigh your plate down. You will need something to cut the richness of the beef stew.
Adding a little acid can help accomplish this. This will balance the stew further. Carefully doing this will be good for the beef stew. The acid component will highlight the flavors of the casserole.
Ways of adding acid to the beef stew:
Adding tomato paste or some diced tomatoes can do the job. You can also use some red wine in the pot at the start of the cooking process.
The harsh acidity will weaken as the stew simmers. The hint of acidity will just be a kick or two when the beef stew stops cooking.
You can also add some vinegar at the end of the cooking time. A small splash of vinegar will not change the stew's flavor. Tasting it will determine if it is already balanced.
Using balsamic vinegar can add some sweetness as well. Make sure to stay away from plain white vinegar. This can overwhelm the other flavors in the stew.
Adding the vinegar little by little will prevent your stew from becoming sour soup. It is better to add vinegar this way. You can adjust gradually. This will help you achieve a beef stew you can be proud of.
Avoiding some common mistakes when making beef stew can help you make a delicious dish. It will be something your friends or family can request at any time.
And every time you make it, the results will be optimal. Making sure you are mindful of the process can make your beef stew unforgettable.
Beef stew is a type of comfort food anybody would love to have. The velvety, flavorful gravy and the tender vegetables make each mouthful decadent.
The tender beef will make your worries go away. Achieving the right flavor, consistency, and texture of your beef stew will take time to master.
Each household has a version of this delicious and hearty dish.
If you know the common mistakes to avoid when making beef stew, you can serve a perfect dish and impress your loved ones and friends. You could even use your recipe to swap with. Just don't share your secret ingredient.