Well, yes, but in a good way. How could I pass up giving Donald something warm and wonderful and made with the nutritious and lean beef from SS Backwards Longhorns? Since we’ve followed the turkey tradition for the past two years, both the large and the small of it, we threw tradition to the wind for 2017 and made this special treat for the holiday table.
Beef Stew actually has a lot of memories for me (no, not always a vegetarian). It was a staple in my house when I was little. In fact, beef stew became one of my dad’s signature dishes. You might remember my dad from a couple of years ago on a St. Patrick’s Day post—he’s Irish. And, from the time I was about 13, he was also a single parent, though I doubt anyone called him that back then. They usually referred to him as a widower with a child, which sounds a lot like a person with an ulcer, now that I think about it.
The thing about my dad’s beef stew was that it was quintessentially “a dish from the 60’s.” What I mean by that is that his stew was something right out of a Betty Crocker Cookbook—carrots, onions, celery, potatoes and stew meat… with additives, like this stuff from the folks at McCormick called a “flavor packet.” What was that?!
If you were growing up in the 1960’s like me, I bet you were one of the first of a generation to taste Koolaid, that packet of artificial sour powder, miraculously transformed into a yummy neon drink with only a cup of sugar per two cups of water. I bet your family loved and marveled over TV Dinners by Swanson. I still remember my first frozen pizza by Chef “Boy-R-Dee.” In fact, this cardboard replica of the real thing is all I knew of pizza for years.
So back to my dad’s stew. He coated the stew meat in flour—white flour, laced with Accent–and browned it in Crisco, then added the veggies, the mystery flavor packet, some La Choy Soy Sauce—his exotic secret ingredient and the basis for his other culinary masterpiece: Chop Suey—Worcestershire sauce, and, of course, salt and pepper. He completed our meal with Minute Rice…remember that?
Memories are great, and sharing that stew with my dad when we were both feeling very much alone in the world was pretty special.
But not in my kitchen today. Not with my Longhorn sirloin roast that was carefully cubed and seared in olive oil. Instead of trying to recreate my dad’s stew, I gave myself a new challenge: could I make a great beef stew using only natural, organic ingredients—no flavor packets, no Worcestershire sauce, no 60’s artificial anything? Yep, I could, using my slow cooker and some fabulous homemade bone broth. And so can you, so keep reading.
- Three-pounds lean sirloin roast, cut into one-inch cubes
- Olive oil—you’ll need anywhere from a few tablespoons to a quarter cup, depending on the fat content of your meat
- Two tablespoons unsalted butter
- Coarse sea salt and pepper to taste
- Two cups bone broth, homemade or commercial, divided one and a half cups and one-half cup
- Four large cloves garlic, whole (You can eat these, as they will become milder during cooking, but you’ve got to love garlic.)
- Five or six small yellow onions, peeled and left whole or halved
- One cup celery, cut diagonally into chunks
- One and one-half cups carrots, scrubbed well but not peeled, cut diagonally into chunks
- One fennel bulb, hard outer layers removed and inner bulb quartered (Save those outer layers for your vegetable stock bag!)
- Three cups chunked sweet potato, scrubbed well but not peeled (If you prefer white potatoes, go for it. I suggest sturdy russets, unpeeled. Turnips are also a possibility here, just scrubbed, peeled and halved.)
- Herb sachet: sprigs of thyme, fennel frond, sage, tarragon and a fresh bay leaf tied with kitchen string for easy removal
- Two tablespoons best-quality dark balsamic vinegar
- Two tablespoons cornstarch
- Lightly salt and pepper your sirloin chunks. Heat some of the olive oil and butter in a large chef’s skillet, reserving the rest of the oil and butter to add as you go. Add some of the meat cubes to the skillet and brown on all sides—you are looking for a nice sear, but you don’t want to completely cook the meat. Do your browning in batches—adding a bit of oil and butter as necessary to keep the meat from sticking. Don’t overcrowd the skillet, so you can achieve an even browning on all your pieces. As they finish up, remove the meat cubes to a paper towel-lined, rimmed baking sheet to drain off excess oil.
- Prepare all your vegetables and the herb sachet. Load the vegetables into your slow cooker or crock pot (which is what is written on the front of my old model.) and top with the herb sachet.
- Add your browned meat and one and half cups of the bone broth. Turn the slow cooker on low and let it slow cook for the next eight to nine hours. Actually, I gave it a stir at hour four and let Donald taste-test the broth for seasoning tweaks. We didn’t add anything at that point, but checking is never a bad idea.
- At about six and a half hours, bring the remaining half-cup of bone broth to a boil in a small sauce pan on your stove and whisk in the cornstarch, letting it cook while whisking constantly for about a minute so that it begins to thicken. Remove from heat and whisk in the balsamic vinegar. Add this to the slow cooker, giving everything a good stir. Then continue cooking for another two to three hours.
Note that the prep time includes the browning time for the meat. If your stew broth is not getting as thick as you would like near the last hour, you can try turning up the temperature on your cooker, if it allows you that option.
The only slight concession I might have made to “au naturel” was the addition of balsamic vinegar (which is still pretty darn natural) and cornstarch. I needed a thickener, and I wanted some acid to pop the flavor. Well worth it. I served up the stew in big bowls with homemade bread, but no Minute Rice. And, I think my dad would have approved. To make sure your stew turns out just as good as mine, here are some tips on getting “into a stew” over this holiday season.
- The cut of meat: If your meat is extra lean, as mine was, I suggest keeping any extra fat for that nice sear in the skillet. If you are using a different cut of beef such as a chuck roast where there is more marbling, you may want to remove excess fat. For one thing, the slow cooker will create a lot of liquid on its own, and the excess fat will just add more.
- Bone broth: I used my own bone broth for this recipe, which I highly recommend taking the time to prepare, but you can find healthy commercial brands out there. Look for grass-fed, organic on the label. If possible, see if the source of the beef is traceable. You might also need to adjust seasonings, if the commercial brand contains salt—yet another reason to start from scratch. Though homemade bone broth takes a lot of time, little attention is required…. Just sayin’.
- Using the slow cooker: Ok, mine does say “crock pot,” but apparently the chic term now is slow cooker. At any rate, mine is quite large with a removable bowl, so I can cram a lot of food in there (Note that this recipe serves eight to 10 people.). If your slow cooker is not a large model, you can still make the stew, just reduce the amount of each ingredient by about half, but keep in mind that you might need to lessen the cooking time. You know your slow cooker, so you will need to be the judge. And, of course, quantities above are my preferences; you can have more carrots and less celery, for instance, if that is your family’s preference.
Happy Thanksgiving from Green Gal of the Midwest.
May warm sweet memories be your only “additives” this year.