January 4, 2021
Stews are one of the oldest methods of preparing food in history. All across the world and throughout antiquity, humans have been simmering two or more ingredients in liquid for an extended period of time so that their flavours may infuse and deepen, creating what we call a stew.
History of the stew
In the earliest cookbook known to man, Apicius de re Coquinaria, there are recipes for stews containing both meat and fish, and in Le Viandier, the oldest French cookbook, there are several references to ragout, a stew made from beef or pork. In primitive times, stews would be cooked inside a part of the animal, such as its stomach. Luckily, the invention of pottery some 10,000 years ago made it a lot easier and more appealing to cook this dish!
What is a stew?
Fundamentally, making a stew involves “stewing” meat or fish with vegetables. The key is not to let the stew boil but rather to keep it simmering for hours so that the ingredients take on each other’s flavours. A stew can be thickened with eggs, or flour and infused with any combination of herbs and spices, depending on where the recipe originates from.
Some of the most classic stews include Hungarian goulash (a “brown” stew, i.e. made with beef), French bouillabaisse (a fish stew) and Irish stew, which is made with mutton and root vegetables. These and many other similar variations are all traditional dishes eaten in the West however across the world you’ll find stew-like dishes such as in Africa, where beef is often cooked with peanuts and spices and in Asia where the traditional curry involves cooking meat or fish with vegetables and plenty of spices before mixing in coconut milk to thicken the sauce.
How to make a stew
Making a classic beef stew is simple and there’s one magic ingredient that will guarantee it turns out great: time.
Since we tend to use tougher cuts of meat for a stew, it needs to be cooked low and slow for at least two hours to become melt-in-the-mouth tender. While you can cut up meat yourself, Co-op has stewing beef available that’s ready to toss into the pot; no trimming, slicing or fuss required.
Another key technique when making a beef stew is searing your meat in advance. Do this in batches and you’ll be rewarded with a sticky glaze on the bottom of your pan that will form the deep, rich basis of your stew’s broth. After this, add onions and celery to the pan, sprinkle with some flour and cook them until soft. Next deglaze the pan with a generous slosh of red wine or dark beer before adding the meat back to the pan, coating it in stock and lowering the heat as you sit back and let the magic happen. Since your stew will be cooking for hours, wait until it’s halfway through before adding your root vegetables (carrots, potatoes etc.) to prevent them becoming too soggy.
Of course, there are many different ways to prepare a stew and we guarantee that if you master one you’ll have a show-stopping recipe in your arsenal to whip out whenever you need. Getting to grips with the basics of stewing opens the door to hundreds of variations that’ll keep you warm all winter long. Need some inspiration? Whether you want something fast, something for a feast or to freeze, or a family-friendly meal, we’ve got you covered. For that exotic mélange, try our Peanut-Coconut Beef Curry. Want something more traditional? This Slow Cooker Beef Stew is ready at suppertime with minimal monitoring on your part. Or for game night, try this Braised Beef Chili.
Slow Cooker Beef Stew
1. In a skillet set over medium-high heat, heat a drizzle of oil and brown the beef in batches, sprinkling with salt and pepper.
2. As the meat browns, transfer it to the bowl of a slow cooker. (If you want to skip this step, toss the meat directly into the slow cooker.)
3. Sprinkle with flour and stir to coat.
4. Add the stock, wine or beer until the liquid almost covers the meat.
5. Add the balsamic vinegar, tomato paste and toss in a sprig of rosemary or thyme from the stew mix package.
6. Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours, then stir in the stew mix and cook for another hour, or until the vegetables are just tender.
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