During the long, dark, and especially cold months of winter, we’re all about warm and hearty foods. And what is warmer and heartier than a great stew that is tempting you with its steaminess and aromas? We would be hard-pressed to find something like that.
A great stew is something that’s amazing to make because it is a meal fit for an entire family, even over multiple days. And the preparation aspect of it is not that complicated. What’s also great about it is that it’s simple enough to customize it and change out the flavors and ingredients and it will still be delicious!
It’s no wonder that different types of stew are popular all over the world and mankind has been stewing delicious things for ages! There are so many variations. From the classic French beef bourguignon, ratatouille, and coq au vin, to the hearty Irish stews, Italian Osso Bucco, and the savory or sometimes sweet and savory Moroccan and Algerian tajines.
A stew is something that’s shared with your family and that has a place in bringing back memories and creating new ones when it’s cold outside, but warm on the inside. That’s why perfecting a recipe or more is sometimes what cooking is all about. But what makes a great stew? Let’s find out.
5 tips and tricks for a great stew
1. Choose a base
The classic base for a stew is also known as a mirepoix and it’s a combination of onion, carrot, and celery. The flavors are very exciting together and you can add so many things to this to bring it up another level. Finely dice all of these, they’re not used to add bulk to the stew, just flavor. If you have some extra time, you can caramelize the onions for an even more complex flavor.
2. Brown the meat
You want the meat to be cooked before adding to the stew. If you brown it, you seal the moisture in it so that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. And it also keeps the meaty flavor in the bits. You can go for chicken, lamb, beef, pork, you name it! Whatever type of meat you use, your stew has the potential for greatness.
One extra tip: if you are making a big stew, then make sure you don’t brown too much meat at once. Overcrowding the pan is a no-no because the meat won’t sear properly or seal the flavors in. So sear the meat in multiple batches.
3. Bulk up the stew
Add some root vegetables like potatoes, grains like rice and barley, or pulses like beans and lentils. Potatoes are often the go-to choice for this because they tend to soak up the cooking liquid and they’re quite cost-effective.
If you’re using vegetables, roast them in advance, that will also seal in the flavors and make everything tastier.
4. Get good quality cooking liquid
A great stew is made by simmering the ingredients in quality liquid. You can use stock or wine, or even both, but make sure that they’re quality stuff. Like your own homemade stock can make a difference as opposed to the store-bought kind. For some recipes, you can even add some cognac or some high-quality ale.
5. Slow cook it
One of the secrets of the great stew is cooking it long and slow so that the flavors have time to basically make harmonious music together. But if you are strapped for time or are very hungry, there are things you can do to help the sauce reduce. Like adding some flour or corn flour to coat the meat. This will thicken your sauce considerably and you’ll be able to cook the whole thing in less time.