Good beef stew can be one of the most homey and comforting dishes to enjoy on a chilly winter night. But making good beef stew can be a challenge. Somehow, it seems no matter what you do, the stew tastes pretty much the same. Like beef, carrots and brown gravy. This recipe solves that issue. A bottle of inexpensive rich, tangy balsamic vinegar adds such snap to the finished product that it seems like a very complicated, many-ingredient dish with lengthy preparation and complicated technique. The end result is hearty, sweet and flavorful – the perfect beef stew with a little twist.
Don’t worry about the balsamic – this calls for the supermarket salad dressing aisle inexpensive variety, not the gourmet shop aged expensive stuff. I use pre-cut beef labeled “trim cut”, but you can trim your own, which can be more cost effective. Frozen pearl onions make this stew extra easy, but feel free to peel fresh ones. You could also use peeled shallots or cipolline onions if you find them. There is the added bonus that this stew makes the house smell fantastic while cooking.
- 4 pounds beef stew meat chunks, or 4 pounds beef chuck cut into pieces
- 1 (8 ounce) bottle balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup beef broth
- 3 garlic cloves
- 3 carrots, peeled
- 1 (16 ounce) bag frozen pearl onions
- 5 thyme sprigs
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 Tablespoon water
- Place the beef in a large ziptop bag. Pour in the vinegar and seal. Squish the bag around to coat the meat, then put in the fridge to marinate for one to two hours. If you think of it, turn the bag over once during this time. Meanwhile, chop the peeled carrots into big-bite sized chunks and let the onions thaw a little.
- Preheat the oven to 325°. Pour the beef and vinegar into a large (5 quart) oven-safe casserole or Dutch oven with a lid. Pour over the beef broth, drop in the carrots, garlic, onions, thyme and bay leaves. Stir to mix, cover, then place in the oven. Cook for 2 ½ hours.
- Remove from the oven and strain the stew in a colander set over a bowl. Remove the thyme stalks and the bay leaves from the meat. Carefully wipe out the pot with damp paper towels. Pour the juices from the stew into the pot and cook on the stovetop over medium high heat. Reduce the juices by about 1/3, letting them become slightly syrupy, stirring well. While the sauce is cooking, mix the cornstarch and water until a smooth paste forms. When the juices are reduced, add the cornstarch paste, stirring until thick and smooth. Toss the beef and veg back in the pot and stir to coat.
- Leave the stew to cool completely. Spoon the stew into a ziptop bag or disposable plastic containers and seal tightly. The stew will keep in the fridge up to two days or can be frozen for up to a month.
- When ready to serve, pour the soup into a pot, stir in ½ cup water and heat over medium high heat, stirring, until heated through.