perfect stew

Stewing is autumn and winter. Stew everything! Fruit, meat, vegetables, fish, grains…

When it’s starting to get chilly outside, get in the kitchen and turn it into the warm heart of your home. As you approach the front door with frosty rosy cheeks and with a lack of feeling in your toes, the joy and warmth of a homemade stew wafting around your home is second to none.

Everyone has a favourite stew that has seen them through the colder months, and you can see mine beneath the tips below – it’s so easy and so enjoyable to make.

As far as general stewing rules go, however, there can be some confusion – do you brown the meat? Which vegetables work best? Roots or pulses? Thick or thin sauce? What to serve it with? Believe it or not, there are no right or wrong ways to make stew, so however you like it, have a look at a few tips to give your stew a bit more stew-pendous (I make no apologies).

Base flavours

Investing in the base layer will pay dividends at the end. Do you want it spicy, earthy or rich? You can experiment with store cupboard ingredients and fresh herbs, but here are my tips.

  • Pork loves apples, onions and juniper berries.
  • Beef loves bay, rosemary and olives.
  • Lamb works brilliantly with ground cumin and coriander, dried apricots and fresh ginger.
  • Fish loves fennel, tomato and chilli.
  • Beans and green vegetables work beautifully with fresh soft herbs like basil, parsley and mint.
  • Cook your onions until golden first to make for a sweeter caramelised flavour.
  • Try big-hitting flavours like a smoked ancho or chipotle chilli in with beef or a pinch of saffron in with fish.

The main ingredient

Whether you’re going vegetarian or all-out meat, there are things consider when looking for the best flavour.

  • Root vegetables could be roasted first to help them keep a bit of body and take on a sweet flavour. Celeriac, swede and squash take on wonderful flavour when coated and roasted with herbs and spices.
  • Try using a cheaper cuts of meat like neck, leg and shin or chicken thighs and legs, oxtail, livers or kidneys – you’ll probably get lots more flavour if you give them time in the oven. Rabbit, pheasant and Italian sausages all make for an even stronger taste.
  • Mix more expensive fish like monkfish and prawns with cheaper mussels and clams – it doesn’t just save money, it mixes up flavours and textures.

Fillers and bulkers

Here are some cheap, healthy and tasty ways to bulk stews and make them go a little further.

  • Grains like pearl barley, rice and bashed-up pasta give extra body
  • Beans and lentils add extra protein and keep you fuller for longer
  • Potatoes are a cheap and easy way to bulk up a stew – they act like a sponge to suck up cooking liquid.

stew

To thicken a sauce

There’s nothing sadder than a thin stew. If you don’t fancy cooking it for hours and hours until it reduces, here are a few things you can do to get that gorgeous rich texture.

  • If you’re browning meat or frying onions, coat it in seasoned flour first.
  • If you’re making a spicy stew, add a spoon of smooth peanut butter to the stew– it thickens slightly and add a wicked depth of flavour.
  • If you need to thicken the sauce later on in the recipe mix a spoon of flour with a little stock to make a paste and stir a little at a time into the stew.

Finishing touches

Once it’s out the oven there is still lots you can do to make your stew look, smell and taste even better.

  • Dumplings are a great addition to a hearty winter stew. Suet or potato, little or large.
  • Herby breadcrumbs or croutons are a lovely crunchy texture.
  • A flavoured chilli oil or pesto works really well with a light chicken or fish stew.
  • Simply top with a few chopped fresh herb leaves.

Pip’s hearty beef stew recipe

Serves 4-6

hearty beef stew

  • 1kg diced shin of beef
  • plain flour
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds, crushed
  • olive oil
  • 2 large onions, peeled and sliced
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced on an angle
  • 2 sticks celery, sliced with any leaves kept to one side
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 litre fresh beef stock
  • handful cherry tomatoes
  • 1 handful pearl barley
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lemon
  • few sprigs fresh parsley 

Place the beef in a large mixing bowl. Mix 2 tbsp plain flour with a good pinch of salt, pepper and the fennel seeds. Toss the meat in the flour and place to one side.

Place a large lidded casserole pan on a medium heat and add a good lug of olive oil. Add the beef to the pan and brown all over. You may need to do this in batches to avoid steaming the meat. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate.

Put the pan back on a medium heat and add another lug of olive oil. Add the onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves and rosemary.  Cook for 5 minutes with lid askew, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the tomato purée, then add the beef stock, cherry tomatoes and the beef back to the pan. Stir everything together well. Place the lid on askew. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 90 minutes or until the meat is tender stirring occasionally. 30 minutes before the end of cooking, throw in the pearl barley.

When it’s ready, season to taste. Ladle into bowls and serve with a little extra virgin olive oil, chopped parsley and lemon zest on top. Crusty croutons are lovely with this too.


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