A few weeks ago, as the temperature decreased and my pandemic fatigue increased, I did something I hadn’t done in years: I simmered up a homey beef stew.
I’d forgotten all about beef stew, seduced by the likes of wine-braised short ribs and fancy Bourguignon. But while braises and Bourguignons may be more impressively company-worthy than stew, they’re not appropriate to our current national mood — or my personal one, at least.
Far more in sync with the moment is a pot bubbling slowly on the stove, its belly loaded with tender chunks of beef, nuggets of carrots and slivers of onions and herbs. The resulting dish is as cozy as my favorite moth-eaten thrift store sweater, a brown cashmere turtleneck I throw on whenever I need my clothing to feel like a warm blanket. A savory beef stew, plopped on top of buttery mashed potatoes (or polenta, noodles or rice), is soothing like that.
You don’t need special ingredients to make a good stew, although homemade stock is always going to make things taste better than most of its packaged counterparts. My default is homemade chicken stock, which I use even in beef dishes because it’s what I tend to have on hand. Given the choice, I’d even go for homemade vegetable stock over store-bought beef stock here. This said, if your freezer is stockless, just use what’s easy to come by. Beef stews are as forgiving as they are satisfying.
I also call for pouring some ale or beer into the stew pot, and you don’t need to be particular. Whatever you like to drink will work, including nonalcoholic brands.
The ale serves two functions: Besides brightening the sauce, it tempers the sweetness of the red onions and carrots nestled in with the beef and keeps the dish from becoming cloying.
Ground spices — coriander and allspice — add an earthy complexity, and a ruddy blob of tomato paste deepens all the flavors in its umami-intensifying way.
Like most stews (and braises and Bourguignons, for that matter), this one improves as it sits. Leftovers will be even tastier and just as comforting as the dish was on Day 1 — without your having to cook another meal. It may not eliminate your pandemic fatigue, but it will give you more time to wrap yourself in your favorite sweater and sink into the couch, which is never a bad thing, especially now.
Recipe: Hearty Beef Stew With Red Onions and Ale
Makes: 6 servings
Total time: 3 hours
- 2 pounds boneless beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch chunks
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 3 medium red onions
- 1 to 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more as needed
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 2 cups beef or chicken stock, preferably homemade
- 1 cup ale or beer (nonalcoholic is fine)
- 1 rosemary sprig
- 3 carrots, sliced
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar or sherry vinegar, plus more to taste
- Chopped chives, for garnish
- Flaky sea salt, for garnish
1. Season the beef all over with salt and pepper. Set aside while you prepare the onions.
2. Peel the onions. Cut 2 of them in half root to stem, then thinly slice them crosswise into half-moons. Cut the third onion, root to stem, into 1/2-inch wedges.
3. Dust the beef cubes lightly with flour. Heat butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a large Dutch oven or other pot over medium-high. Add beef, in batches taking care not to crowd the pan, and sear until it’s good and dark all over, 5 to 6 minutes per batch. Transfer beef cubes to a bowl as they brown. Add more oil and adjust heat if necessary to prevent burning.
4. Stir in sliced onions and raise heat to medium-high if you lowered it. Cook until pale golden brown and soft, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant and lightly golden at the edges, 2 to 3 minutes longer.
5. Make a well in the center of the onions, then stir in tomato paste, coriander and allspice; cook, stirring until paste is darkened, 1 minute. Stir in stock, ale, 1 cup water and rosemary sprig. Return beef and any juices to the pot and bring to a simmer. Partly cover the pot and simmer gently for 45 minutes.
6. Give the beef a stir, then add onion wedges. Simmer for 15 minutes, then stir in carrots and continue to simmer until the meat, onions and carrots are tender, 30 to 45 minutes longer.
7. If the sauce seems thin, use a slotted spoon to transfer meat and vegetables to a platter; cover with foil to keep warm. Discard the rosemary. Return pot with liquid to stove and simmer until thickened, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in vinegar. Taste and add more salt and vinegar if you like. Spoon sauce over meat and garnish with chives, flaky sea salt and more black pepper.