There is nothing earth-shattering or revelatory about beef stew in the fall, is there? The ingredients in my version are as one would expect—big chunks of vegetables, potatoes, beefy morsels and a thick, rich braising gravy—yet this is exactly the kind of comforting, satisfying, rib-sticking classic fall food I’ve been dreaming about since the temperatures first began to drop. So, even though I expect you may have your own recipe for beef stew, I’m going to share mine visually, just to make you hungry and ready to celebrate the season in comfort (you’re welcome).
Under less busy life circumstances, I might have made this one-pot stew right on the stovetop in our enamel-coated Dutch oven. But when I’m upside down with my day job, busy with home updates and wrangling our pets, I really appreciate the versatility of our slow cooker. Ours has extra options, including a setting for browning meat, so I was able to get this done without shifting ingredients from one pot to another. If your slow cooker has more simple settings, just brown the meat first in a skillet on the stove and transfer it to your slow cooker when it’s ready to braise.
I selected grass-fed, locally raised beef for my stew. It’s easier on my digestive system than conventional beef, and we feel strongly about supporting local suppliers. Choose the best beef you can find, and a cut that is mostly lean, but with some marbling for flavor. I tossed the beef chunks with a few generous pinches of kosher salt and let them rest 15 minutes while I prepped my other ingredients and got my slow cooker up to speed.
For no special reason, I decided that I would use fancy onions for my beef stew. I chose cippolini onions, which are small and squatty—kind of like miniature vidalias—and they need to be peeled before cooking. This was easy to do, with a quick bath in simmering water, then a shock in an ice bath. For the sake of uniformity, I cut my other vegetables to match the size of the cippolinis. If you wish, use a large sweet or yellow onion, cut into large chunks.
Browning the meat encourages more flavor because of something called the Maillard reaction, and if you want to geek out on food science, you could read this article to understand what that’s all about, or you could simply trust the process and brown the meat (your taste buds will thank you). When the oil in my slow cooker was ready, I added the salted meat a few pieces at a time to avoid a sudden temperature drop and turned them frequently to ensure even browning.
As soon as the meat was browned, I added a pat of butter and a few cloves of chopped garlic. A dusting of flour coated the meat and set the stage for gentle thickening, and then I splashed in about 1/4 cup of dry red wine. This adds depth of flavor to braising liquid, but if you don’t care for wine in food, you could substitute a splash of red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar for a similar effect.
This is the time to transfer the browned meat to the slow cooker if your appliance only has heat settings, and it helps to have the cooker set on high heat setting when you do so. Add two cups of broth to the meat and stir it around until it begins to thicken slightly. Add the cut-up vegetables and cippolini onions, then add enough additional broth to just cover the cooker ingredients. Drop the temperature to low setting, add a couple of bay leaves into the stew, cover it and let it simmer for about six hours.
By that time, the beef will be very tender and the vegetables will be soft to the bite. If you like your stew a little thicker, a corn starch slurry will do the trick without giving an off taste. Turn the cooker heat back up to high and remove the bay leaves. Whisk together corn starch with equal amount of very cold water until smooth, and drizzle a stream of the slurry into the stew. When the braising liquid reaches a gentle boil, it will thicken to perfection.
We served our beef stew with some homemade, warm-from-the-oven dinner rolls. Now, aren’t you glad it’s autumn? What comfort food have you been craving?
Easy Slow Cooker Beef Stew
There's an easy way to enjoy an all-day stew without giving it all-day attention. Grab your slow cooker and let's get cooking!
- 1 1/2 pounds grass fed stewing beef, or chuck roast cut into pieces
- 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 4 to 5 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
- 1 Tbsp. salted butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup dry red wine
- 4 cups low-sodium beef broth, divided
- 7 oz. cippolini onions, blanched for easy peeling
- 2 cups fresh carrot chunks
- 2 cups Yukon gold potato chunks (skin-on is OK)
- 1 cup chopped celery, ribs removed
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 2 Tbsp. corn starch blended with 2 Tbsp. ice water (optional, for additional thickening)
- Blot stewing meat (or chunks) dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with one heaping teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Rest meat at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
- Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet, Dutch oven or slow cooker (if yours has a browning function). Brown meat on all sides over medium heat. Add garlic and cook about 2 minutes, taking care to avoid burning it. Sprinkle flour over meat and garlic, and toss until it appears absorbed onto the browned meat.
- Pour wine over meat and quickly toss, scraping up any browned bits from the surface of the pot. The wine should thicken quickly, creating a sticky coating all over the meat. Transfer the meat (if using a separate pot) to the slow cooker on high setting.
- Add 2 cups of the beef broth and stir meat around until the broth begins to thicken slightly. Add onions, carrots, potatoes and celery and toss to combine. Add remaining broth and stir. Place bay leaves and thyme sprigs on top of the stew mixture. Reduce slow cooker to low setting and cook for about 6 hours, until beef pieces and vegetables are tender.
- If desired, stir in corn starch slurry during the last 30 minutes of cooking time (use high heat). Serve with crusty rolls to sop up all the delicious gravy!
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