Savory Slow Cooker Beef Stew

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I made this stew for dinner this evening and it was really quite lovely. Its springtime right now, but I can see this being be a nice bowl of warm comfort on an autumn night. I made a few modifications to the original recipe – largely to “healthify” it and make it “clean eating” compliant, and it turned out awesome. For instance, instead of using all purpose flour which is highly refined and basically offers no nutritional value (all the food stuff – the fiber – has been refined out), so all its good for is unhealthy blood sugar spikes… I substituted oat flour, which is simply quick oats that you run through the blender or food processor til it turns to flour (this time its healthy flour, with all the nutrition still intact – the high fiber content prevents those unhealthy blood sugar spikes.)

Another (healthy) option for thickening the stew in place of flour would be to use arrowroot powder (I recommend two heaping tablespoons), which is a similar concept to cornstarch, but much healthier. You use it in the same way you do cornstarch – add a little of the arrowroot powder to some of the broth and mix well, then add it to the stock in the crockpot; give it a few minutes to thicken, then repeat if not thickened enough until you get to the thickeness you desire.

But here’s something else you can do (and I will do this next time I make this recipe): You have a natural thickener as an ingredient… The potato. Once cooked, just mash it up and stir it through. I do this to give a nice thick, almost creamy consistency to many vegetable soups. Also, you can use left over mash potatoes to thicken stews and soups instead of all that flour – just add them to the stock. If you are following a paleo eating plan, use sweet potatoes, not white.

Now here are a few more tips for a perfectly cooked beef stew:

You want to be careful not to overcook your beef, or it will turn out tough – even in the slow cooker.

Over-searing the meat can cause the same problem. Searing should be done fast, just to quickly brown. If you sear for too long you are cooking it, not searing it – and that’s not what you want to do (again, it will turn out tough if you do that).

When you sear your meat, use a cast iron pan if you got, and crank it on med/high. When HOT, add cold oil just to cover the bottom, and lay in your meat, do NOT crowd, and turn it with tongs. only need to sear the sides… do NOT cook.

As a nice variation, after you can removed the beef from the pan and transferred to the slow cooker, you can add the onion to the pan cook it on Med/High just til the onion starts to turn translucent. Then add all that to your crock pot; deglaze the pan with a bit of red wine, and pour that in your crockpot; THEN, and add the rest of the ingredients.

Searing the meat helps lock in the juices and also adds additional flavor. Its not essential, you can certainly just add the meat straight into the slow cooker without searing, but searing does have the benefits I mentioned.

Also, if you are going to cook it a LONG time, perhaps add the garlic half way through instead of earlier on. Garlic is volatile, and the flavor can cook out.

You can create another twist on this recipe by substituting a cup of red wine for one of the cups of beef broth. To get a little fancier and more advanced try this technique (requires 1 and 3/4 cup of wine). I added 3/4 cup of red wine at the beginning and then reduced 1 cup of red wine and added it at the end (got that tip from a beef burgundy recipe) Also added some sauteed baby bella mushrooms at the end. My husband said it was the best, most flavorful beef stew he has had.

When it comes to the potatoes, red potatoes hold together quite well in long cooking. A starchy potato such as a Russet would disintegrate if cooked for long time, so you may wan to add these later in the cooking process if you are using Russets. Similarly, if you have Yukon Gold spuds, you may wish to put them in later in the cooking.

As for the herbs, after you’ve tried the recipe as written, you can play with different herbs and spices in the future to create variations. You can cut down the amount used, or try different herbs and spices entirely. Instead of rosemary and thyme, try oregano and basil (or just oregano). Another variation on the seasonings could be (instead of the herbs and spices listed): a little bit mild chili powder, a bit cumin powder. Another take: I seasoned the beef with lots of flavorings before searing – coffee, cardamom, cumin, along with onion/garlic powder.

I also suggest trying a variation where you substitute 1 cup red wine for 1 of broth, and try half carrots half parsnips. You can dredge the beef in flour (with or without seasonings) before searing it off and thereby skip the thickening step. Maybe add some pearl onions in the last couple of hours.

Or add 1/2 c of Merlot the last 30 min. along with flour and broth. Gives it an even deeper flavor and all the ingredients add multiple layers.

Seasoning of food with herbs and spices is purely a personal thing. If you do not like the seasonings of the recipe then leave them out or substitute them with those to your liking but seasoning a stew is what brings out the flavour.
Red wine in any stew always manages to enhance the flavour if you use a wine with body, dry wines are not so good for stews, Medoc, Shiraz, Ruby Cabernet are fine reds for starters.

Flouring the meat before searing adds a crust to it and helps seal in the meat juices and allows the wine component to permeate as well but is not essential to do.

Cheaper cuts of meat can work really well if they are cooked longer as the fibre of the meat needs more time to tenderize during cooking. Striploin or Sirloin will give a juicier taste to the stew but the advantage of slow cooking cheaper cuts of meat is not to be ignored.

A vegetable worth adding is baby leeks split down the middle and cut into 3 parts and do not forget that button mushrooms are perfect for stews!

Keep in mind, the longer, lower, and slower you cook it, the more you will end up with meat so tender that it falls apart.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil (or homemade bone broth, or coconut oil/MCT oil)
2 pounds stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound potatoes of your choice, quartered
4 carrots, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced (or 2 tsp chopped garlic from a jar)
3 cups beef broth (can also used home made beef stock)
2 tablespoons tomato paste (I used 1 can tomato paste + some juice from canned tomotoes, and 4 of the tomoatoes
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary (I omitted)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, optional (I omitted)
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (I used ground oats to avoid white processed flour)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves (I used dried, to taste)

Directions:

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season beef with salt and pepper, to taste. Add beef to the skillet and cook until evenly browned, about 2-3 minutes. Place beef, potatoes, carrots, onion and garlic into a 6-qt slow cooker. Stir in beef broth, tomato paste, Worcestershire, thyme, rosemary, paprika, caraway seeds and bay leaves until well combined; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and cook on low heat for 7-8 hours or high heat for 3-4 hours. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and 1/2 cup stew broth. Stir in flour mixture into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high heat for an additional 30 minutes, or until thickened. Serve immediately, garnished with parsley, if desired.

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