Have you been making stews and found that they’re a bit bland or watery or not quite as flavoursome as you’d hoped? If so here are some tips for making your stews tasty and have your family begging you for more!
Choose your ingredients wisely
Whilst having lean meat is all the rage, it can be useful to pick meat that has a small percentage of fat as that’s where a lot of the flavour lies.
For beef stew you need either diced stewing steak or braising steak or something like skirt. These tend to be slightly cheaper, chewier cuts of meat and need a longer cooking time to make them tender.
Start off with a good flavour base.
Most casserole and stew dishes start off with the same base of onions, celery and carrot, sauteed gently to release the flavours. Sauteed means cooked gently and stirred often until the sugars wake up in the vegetables, allowing them to release their full flavour.
You could add a little crushed garlic if you like that. You could use leek in place of the onion (or use both!) If you don’t like (or don’t have) one of those ingredients it’s ok to leave it out. The best thing to do is experiment and see what you like and what you don’t like! Feel free to play with flavour combinations, you absolutely DON’T have to stick rigidly to the recipe.
Casseroles and stews are ideal for using up any root vegetables you may have lurking in the vegetable rack. Things like swede, parsnip, carrots, celariac, potatoes etc are great in stews.
Add flavourings to taste
You can alter the taste of the stew by adding things like:
Tomatoes (chopped tomatoes, tinned cherry tomatoes, or pasatta which is smooth)
A generous squirt of tomato puree
A splash of worcestershire sauce
Add Herbs and/or Spices
For Beef: Rosemary and Thyme work well. You could use mixed herbs or herbs de Provence
For Chicken pick something like Thyme or Sage. Rosemary also works well with chicken
For Lamb: Rosemary works very well
Add a small piece of chopped, de-seeded chilli or half a teaspoonful of hot chilli powder
Paprika. Use regular or hot paprika if you want a little warmth and Smoked Paprika if you’re after more of a barbeque style smoky flavour.
Chilli and paprika work well with tomato based dishes where as herbs work best with gravy based stews.
Add stock or wine/beer
Stock – either homemade or using a stockpot or stock cube dissovled into water. I normally have chicken, beef and vegetable stockpots to hand. You can get all kinds of stockpots and stock cubes these days but I find those three to be the most useful.
Wine: Red wine works well with beef and lamb, white wine works well with chicken. Rose is best drunk whilst you’re cooking and not used actually IN the dish itself!
Cider goes well with pork or chicken dishes
Beer: Ale goes well with beef. It’s important that you use beer NOT lager.
There are many different ways of thickening your stew. I love gravy granules because they’re quick, cheap and easy. You can get these in chicken, beef, vegetable or onion flavour. Unless they’ve specifically got ‘with meat juices’ written on them chances are they’ll actually be vegetarian which is worth knowing if you have a resident vegetarian! Double check the packet!
You can also thicken stews by using seasoned flour as you seal the meat before adding to the dish or by adding a blend of cornflour and water towards the end of cooking. Experiement with different methods and see what you prefer.
It is also possible to put powdered mashed potato into the stew to thicken it (apparently, I’ve not tried it because it sounded a bit grim!)
Seasoning is key
Always double check the seasoning before serving. It may need a little salt and freshly ground black pepper or ground white pepper to the dish. If you’re cooking for small children, leave the seasoning to the very end, portion out their share THEN season it with salt and pepper
Serve the stew with lashings of mashed potatoes or some hot buttered cabbage and peas. Or cook off some part-baked bread rolls and serve the stew in big bowls with the freshly cooked bread and lashings of butter.