Posted by: Hil | December 3, 2009

Classic Beef and Vegetable Stew


Finals season is upon us, and that means that nutritious comfort food is in order.  Beef stew is food of my childhood.  The addition of balsamic vinegar was a fun variation that I came up with on the spot–it came out very well.  The balsamic didn’t overpower the beef, but just stayed as a nice hint in the background. 

I always thought of beef stew as being a very rich food, but it’s quite healthy.  The best cuts of meat for stewing are very lean and tough, gradually tenderizing as they braise.  Most of the fat in the dish is healthy:  some oil for sautéing the vegetables and leftover turkey fat for the roux.  Even if you use a traditional butter based roux, it’s really only a little bit of butter in a large pot of stew.


  • 1 lb lean beef stewing meat (see explanation below)
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 russet potato
  • any kind of broth (or just water)
  • ~1 cup of white wine (optional)
  • ~2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • large sprig of rosemary
  • a couple sprigs of thyme
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon butter or poultry fat (not oil)



Before we get started, a note on selecting your beef stewing meat.  You want a nice quality lean cut that is cut into even cubes.  Some people prefer a fattier cut like chuck, but I much prefer something like round steak in my beef stew.  You can often find precut beef stew meats at the store, but if they are unevenly cut or don’t look fresh, I would recommend getting a piece of round steak and cutting it into cubes yourself (or asking the butcher to do so).   

1.  Heat a large soup pot to medium high heat.  Add the beef cubes and sear on all sides, then remove and set aside.  They don’t have to be cooked through, just browned on the outside.  It is important not to crowd the pot, so sear the cubes in multiple batches if necessary.  If you have a fattier cut of meat, the beef may release some fat during this process–discard any excess grease.

2.  Add a bit of olive oil to the bottom of the pan and lower the heat to medium low.  Chop the onions and add to the pot.  Saute until soft.  While the onion is cooking, chop the other vegetables and add them to the pot as well.  (It’s fine to improvise a bit with the vegetables, but if you want to add anything other than very hearty root vegetables, wait until the stew is almost done before adding them.)  When the vegetables are softened, move to step three.

3.  Add the browned beef back to the pot.  Add rosemary and thyme–the leaves will fall off during cooking, so don’t bother with chopping.  Cover contents of pot with broth, water, and/or wine.  Add the balsamic.  Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover.  The key to beef stew is patience:  if you don’t give the meat enough time to stew, it will be tough.  Don’t even think about touching the stew for the next 45 minutes.  You may need to wait as long as two hours for optimal results.  It doesn’t require any attention from you during this process–just let it stew.

4.  When the meat has become tender and the juices have thickened, it is time to make the roux.  (Before you make the roux, you may want to add a bit more liquid to the pot depending on how much has evaporated. When the added liquid is hot, continue.)  In a separate pan, combine the butter or poultry fat with the flour and whisk.  (You really need a wire whisk to do this properly).  Whisking constantly, let the roux cook.  It will thicken and gradually darken.  Eventually, it will become liquidy again and turn a lovely golden brown color:  that is what you want.  At this point, start to gradually ladle in the stew liquid (but not any of the beef or vegetables), whisking the whole time.  The liquid should thicken immediately.  When your roux  is quite dilute (and any lumps have been thoroughly whisked out), pour it into your stew pot and mix it in.  In a few minutes, your stew will thicken up beautifully.

5.  Adjust for seasonings.  Enjoy!



  1. There’s nothing quite like beef stew on a cold winter day!

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