This is a stew that my Dad always makes at least once a winter. I would even go so far as to say it might be his favourite thing to make outside of barbeque season. And he does it well. Unfortunately, I won’t be at home for this year’s rendition, so I had to give making it myself a try.
I’m not sure I should call it a recipe, because I think of it more as a set of guidelines. The key is to throw in anything and everything that seems like it might work. It reminds me of a quote from Huckleberry Finn, “In a barrel of odds and ends…things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better.”
While Huck’s culinary advice doesn’t apply to every scenario, it certainly works for beef stew. Or, it can be venison stew if you prefer. You can add parsnips, a can of tomatoes, or frozen peas (towards the end), leave out the sweet potato, or the celery, whatever makes it work with what you have on hand. When it comes to flavouring the stew, the list of possibilities is near endless: Worcestershire sauce, Ketchup, BBQ Sauce, Beer, hot peppers, Wine, Vinegar (or wine vinegar), tabasco sauce, thyme, a bay leaf, oregano, mustard, and of course salt and pepper.
When I made it, since I didn’t have Worcestershire, I added things like soy sauce, fish sauce, lemon juice, honey, and some of the liquid from a jar of dill pickles. It sounds crazy but it works. The only caveat I have is that it’s not good too put in so much of something that it becomes overpowering, especially if it’s an ingredient you’re not sure of. Still, there’s a lot of freedom to try things, and every batch of stew can be a little bit different. The only thing limiting you is the size of your slow cooker, so go create!
Slow Cooker Beef Stew
(I wasn’t really sure what to include in this, but I decided that if I was only ever going to make it once, this is what I would put in)
- Olive Oil
- ½ kg (1 lb) package of stew meat
- 3 tbsp flour
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 cups beef stock (or water)
- 4 carrots, scrubbed
- 2 large onions
- 2 large potatoes, scrubbed
- 3 celery sticks
- 1 sweet potato, peeled
- 1 turnip, peeled
- 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 3 tbsp barbeque sauce
- 1 can of beer
- 1 tbsp thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1-2 tsp hot pepper flakes
- Flour and Water
- Salt and Pepper
To start with, try to cut most of the fat and gristle off of your chunks of stew meat, and cut them into similar sized pieces. I like 1 inch cubes. On medium, heat some olive oil and add the beef and garlic, then sprinkle on the flour to coat the pieces. Fry them for 5-10 minutes until they are browned on all sides. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, start heating up the beef broth in your slow cooker and cutting all of your vegetables into same sized chunks. You can add the meat and vegetables to the broth at any time. Once that’s all done, add the sauces, beer and seasonings, mix it all together and top it off with some water if the liquid isn’t covering the veggies.
Now you’ve just got to wait for it to cook. You can relax, go to class, or write a blog post. (Or do all three!) You should give it around 12 hours (overnight) on Low or 6 hours (all day) on High to cook, but it varies with the size of your chunks and the slow cooker you use. You’ll know it’s done when the beef and vegetables are tender. Mix together some water and flour, using just enough water to dissolve the flour. Start with stirring ½ cup of this mixture into your stew, and then add more until the broth has reached the colour and consistency you want. Finally, taste your stew and add salt and pepper as you see fit.
The stew should be served nice and warm with a thick slice of bread or a biscuit, preferably after spending the day outside chopping wood or playing hockey on a nearby river. The copious, delicious leftovers can be frozen or kept in the fridge for a couple days.
The bread in this picture is a favourite recipe of mine, called Irish Soda Bread. I plan on making another loaf soon, and you can expect a post about it to be appearing here in the next few weeks.