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 Post subject: How To Make The Best Stew Ever, by Terra "Cool Guy" Dude
PostPosted: Thu Sep 10, 2015 7:27 am 
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This is a thread on how to make the best stew ever. I will not only be providing lots of pictures to convince you that this is the best stew ever, but also explaining along the way why the weird things I tell you to do work the way they do. This thread will be kind of image heavy, but you've already loaded this page so it's a bit late for that warning.

INTRODUCTION:

So I cook dinner for my little family of 2, every night except the ones I work the night shift. I try to do something new and at least somewhat creative every night, and to test my culinary abilities, I never really follow a recipe unless I'm in completely over my head(like Chinese Five-Spice chicken. I had no idea which 5 spices to use). This gets...tiring, a bit. So the other day, while shopping, I was like, "I'm kind of tired of cooking every gotdang night, I want to make something that we can have for dinner, and then have leftovers of for like a week, while still freezing 3/4ths of it so that I have something to unthaw when I get burnt out again. I'm gonna make a stew."

I had never made a stew before. I understood, principle-wise, what MADE a good stew, and I had had plenty of stews that OTHER people had made that I had noticed flaws in, but I had never attempted my own.

Nonetheless, I bought my supplies and got to work later that night.

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CHECKLIST:
(reminder for those across that big lake thing that a pound is .45 kilograms)
ONE (1) pound of bacon. I honestly just got the cheapest brand I could find. Cheap bacon means bacon that's mostly fat and less of the meat, which makes for subpar brekkies, but is pretty ideal for our stew. More on that later.
ONE (1) pound of carrots. Obvious. Necessary. I wouldn't dream of making a beef stew without carrots.
ONE (1) sack of potatoes. See above. I got the golden kind because I think they're yummy.
ONE (1) red bell pepper.
ONE (1) green bell pepper.
ONE (1) large onion. I just got a classic white onion because they're dirt cheap, and dirt cheapness is a critical aspect of stew. The difference that the different varieties of onion would make is probably minimal, but get your favorite.
ONE (1) package of celery. You won't use all of it so just get the smallest one you can find, I think mine was like a half pound.
ONE (1) can of tomato paste. Same as celery, get the smallest cheapest container of it you can find.
TWO (2) quarts of chicken STOCK. You caaaaan use "broth" if you want, instead, but the yield will be a less velvety, succulent stew liquid. Broth is made from meat, stock is made from bones, and bones make a much smoother, thicker soup.
And of course, the star of the show, ONE (1) hunk of cow shoulder, in the 2-2.5 pound range.

I'm gonna talk about that last ingredient for a minute. Using shoulder meat is absolutely ideal for stews. Why? Because it's a tough, sinewy, cheap piece of meat. Toughness and sinew mean connective tissue. Connective tissue, at least, this particular connective tissue, is made from collagen. At high temperatures in moist conditions, collagen melts, and in doing so, undergoes a molecular change. It becomes gelatin, which, even when solid, is MUCH less firm and tough than the collagen that makes cheap cuts of meat hard to eat. This melted connective tissue will also seep into our soup, making the already very savory stock even more smooth and rich. This is Highly Desirable.

All in all, these ingredients cost me roughly $20 at my local place. Prices may vary by you, but all of this stuff is pretty darn cheap.

THE PREP:

First things first, chop up that bacon into basically 1-inch (2cm) pieces. This was kind of a pain because of how fatty it was, but honestly, it doesn't really matter how uniform or intact the pieces are. You'll see.
Get a big pot/Dutch Oven(yes Blokey we know the joke, that also means farting, ha ha), probably the biggest one you have, put it over medium low heat, probably around 3 on a gas stove, 4 on an electric. Chuck your bacon in and get that slooowly cooking while you turn your attention to the Holy Trinity of your vegetables.

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Bacon doing what bacon does best...being bacon.

The Holy Trinity is a southern-US term for a combination of vegetables--specifically, the combination of 3 stalks of celery, 2 bell peppers, and 1 onion, all finely diced.
And in this instance, I do mean FINELY. The only chunks that get to be in my stew are meat, carrots, and potatoes. In an ideal world, these will be chopped so finely that they just kind of dissolve into the soup while it cooks. While that won't actually ever happen due to cellulose, we're gonna give it the ol' college effort. I actually cut each stalk of celery length-wise between 6 and 12 times before cutting it into very very short pieces. Seriously, tiny cubes on your veggies are the key here--you want the flavor to become part of the stew, not to stay in the big chunks of pepper. You can slack a bit on the onion, both because it's almost impossible by design to chop them that small, and also because they'll shrink a lot when they cook.

Remember to keep an eye on the bacon, stirring it pretty frequently so that no bits really get burned, they just slowly get crunchy as all the soft fat melts off. Once it's done, strain out the bacon with a slotted spoon and put it on a paper-towel lined plate.

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But don't you dare chuck that oil out. Culinarily speaking, bacon fat is more precious than gold. Carefully pour it off into a jar, letting it cool a bit first. Keep it in your fridge. It lasts forever, and frying an egg in bacon fat is like a special little gift that God designed to alleviate the woes of a really jacked up world. Besides, we're gonna use some in a minute.

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Take some time away from the veggies if you haven't finished them yet, and go ahead and cut your piece of beast down to size. You want each chunk of meat to be pretty substantial, because after the cooking, as I've had to say once before in my life, it's definitely gonna be smaller than you expect. Hopefully this time that phrase won't end in such disappointment.
ANYWAY, yeah, like, 2-inch cubes of meat. Each time your plate--or whatever you're using to hold the meat as you go--gets a new layer full, salt it. You want each piece of meat to get at least some salt on it. In fact, you're gonna be salting a lot throughout this recipe, it's important.

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Pictured: not salted meat cubes.

Wipe out your pot with a [paper] towel, and put a tiny bit of your highest smoke-point oil in. The higher an oil's smoke point, the hotter it can get before it starts "burning," and breaking down molecularly and generally becoming disgusting and inedible. The more refined an oil, the higher its smoke point--yours will probably be some type of vegetable or canola oil. Me personally, I always have some grapeseed oil on-hand, which has a smoke point so high that you're more at risk of your pan melting than you are of your oil ruining. Crank it up to med-med high heat, somewhere around 6. When it gets really nice and very hot, give it a swirl to try and get your oil distributed, and lay a few pieces of meat in. Only a few at a time, maybe 8-10 pieces per batch. By the time you get the last of those laid down, it'll be time to go back to the first one and flip it. You are NOT trying to cook the meat here, you are ONLY getting a nice brown crust on a couple sides of each piece. Browned meat is more flavorful meat, and flavor is the goal here.

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I swapped to a glass plate here for fear of melting the paper plate I was using before.

Now that your meat's all browned, let it sit while you finish chopping the vegetables. Seriously, that celery takes a minute. Be sure you're keeping them separated, as each veggie component will go into the pot at a different time.

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Put a bit of the still-liquid bacon fat from earlier back in the pot, about 2 tablespoons, crank the heat down to medium, add your celery, salt the celery, and stir. You'll be salting each component of the dish as it goes in at this point, both because proper salting is the most important part of making a great dish, and because salt will draw the liquid out of the vegetables, which will both concentrate the flavor and significantly soften them, which is important for the "try to get them to just dissolve into the soup" plan we have going. Meantime, get to scrubbing your carrots, and about a pound of your potatoes, and don't forget to stir sometimes to keep the celery from burning. You really want a 1:1:2 ratio of carrots to potatoes to beef, that's the golden ratio here. Once all the dirt is scrubbed off, chop both into substantial pieces. The carrots I cut maybe 1cm thick, and the potatoes I cut into 1-inch cubes.

Once your celery has cooked for a good few minutes, add the bell pepper, salt the bell pepper, and stir. Let that go for a minute or two, add the onion, salt the onion, and stir.

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Once your onion has cooked for a minute, you want to add your spices, because they need to really kind of fry a bit in the oil before they boil in the soup. Fat-soluble flavors and water-soluble flavors can be very different, and you want both.
For seasoning, I wanted to keep the amounts fairly small for such a huge pot of stew. I wanted it to be BEEF stew with some flavor accents, not spice-flavored stew with beef in it, and I absolutely succeeded, the seasoning amounts were perfect on my first try.

SEASONINGS:
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp Hungarian hot paprika
1/2 tsp ground Ancho chili
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg (freshly ground is best but not required)
1/4 tsp powdered thyme

Stir all that in, let it cook for a minute, stirring frequently, then add a heaping tablespoon of your tomato paste. Or two. Or three, depending on how strong you want the tomato flavor. Once again, I wanted beef to 100% be the star here, so I just went with the one. Stir that in, then add EVERYTHING*. Bacon goes in. Carrots go in. Beef goes in--and careful here, the meat has definitely leaked a good amount of blood onto the plate. That goes in the pot too. Throw in 2 bay leaves. Fill your pot up with the stock until it completely covers the solid ingredients.

Image
Pictured: solid ingredients not being completely covered.

The above image was after I had added one quart of the chicken stock, and I really felt like that would be enough, but I went ahead and trusted my gut and added about another pint, so that everything was completely submerged, and I'm very glad that I did, having eaten several bowls of the finished product.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F/205C, turn your stove's heat up to high, and bring it up to a boil. Meantime, go ahead and go get yourself a nice long piece of foil--twice as long as you'd need to cover the pot--and fold it in half. Once your stew hits a boil, put the doubled-over piece of foil on the top, and put the lid on the pot. Don't just set it on, REALLY force it in, so that it's wedged in, held in tight by the foil making the lid's lip a lot thicker than it would be otherwise. Takes a bit of pressure to get it in right.
Throw the pot in your 400/205 degree oven, and set your timer for 60-70 minutes.

The reason for the foil is to create a seal around the lid, to keep steam from escaping. This causes pressure to build in the pot, which, right around the 50 minute mark, will start making some scary noises. The reason we want pressure in the pot is because when water is in a higher atmospheric pressure than sea-level, it raises its boiling point. The pressure inside the pot can only physically build to the level required to break through a double layer of foil, which I'd estimate at about 7-10 pounds per square inch, but that's plenty. The raised boiling point will make the cooking process happen MUCH faster, will render the connective tissue out of the beef MUCH more effectively, and will generally create a significantly better stew.
If you actually had a pressure cooker to do all of this in, well, you're richer than me. Feel free to use that from the start.

THAT ASTERISK UP THERE:

You may have noticed that I neither mentioned added the potatoes to the stew, nor is there a potato visible in that picture.
I don't LIKE potatoes cooked in the stew. They're like little sponges, they soak up too much stew flavor and really lose the flavor that makes them potatoes. They just become "soup, but chewable." I'm not about that. I cook my potatoes separately, and add them at the end. That way, they do take in some of the soup's flavor, but don't BECOME the flavor. They keep their potato-y-ness. And really, that's why I include potatoes in the recipe. It's cause I like potatoes.

Anyway.

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I steamed them for about 15 minutes. Set aside while the stew finished.

ONE HOUR LATER

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This is what my stew looked like when I first unwrapped that foil. My valiant efforts to end with no actual bits of the Trinity ALMOST worked--you can see they floated to the top there, and they were borderline jelly at that point, they had almost no actual substance to them. Stirring the soup essentially made them disappear. All the connective tissue in the beef has melted and leaked into the soup, meaning the beef itself is fall-apart tender despite coming from a very tough piece of meat(and also that each piece of beef has lost a bit of mass). The carrots are tender but not mushy, thanks to having cut them into rather large pieces. The only thing left to do is add the potatoes, mix very well, and taste for seasoning. Honestly, mine still needed a bit more salt even after all that, but notice in the first image that I used salt-free stock. If you don't, yours probably won't need any extra. Or it might, your tastebuds might be duller than mine.

Only thing left to do is to portion it into tupperware, freeze most of it, and optionally toss a splash of malt or balsamic vinegar into each bowl as you eat them--stewing, as a rule, kind of dulls flavors, a tiny bit of acid will really do wonders to bring them back to life, but trust me, it's plenty delicious without.

In fact, it's the best stew ever.
*SLOW MELODIC GUITAR SOLO AS THE CAMERA ZOOMS AWAY FROM MY FACE WHILE I GIVE A SMALL KIND OF KNOWING SMILE*

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Last edited by Terradude on Thu Sep 10, 2015 7:39 am, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: How To Make The Best Stew Ever, by Terra "Cool Guy" Dude
PostPosted: Thu Sep 10, 2015 7:34 am 
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Oh yeah, I mentioned that all these ingredients costed about 20 bucks(as well as leaving a ton of potatoes left over, that was a 7 pound bag and I used like a pound and a half).

Doing some quick questionable math in my head here, this makes about 10 pounds of stew, or 10 huge bowls, or 15 large bowls, or 20 normal person bowls.

That means that this recipe makes an entire meal for between 1 and 2 dollars per diner.

$$$$

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 Post subject: Re: How To Make The Best Stew Ever, by Terra "Cool Guy" Dude
PostPosted: Thu Sep 10, 2015 3:24 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: How To Make The Best Stew Ever, by Terra "Cool Guy" Dude
PostPosted: Thu Sep 10, 2015 11:52 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: How To Make The Best Stew Ever, by Terra "Cool Guy" Dude
PostPosted: Fri Sep 11, 2015 3:21 am 
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Questions, how long would you need for the pressure cooker and can a slow cooker work? If so how long would I need on the slow cooker?

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 Post subject: Re: How To Make The Best Stew Ever, by Terra "Cool Guy" Dude
PostPosted: Sun Sep 13, 2015 9:40 pm 
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I'm not one for slight entrances.

Bokuten wrote:
Questions, how long would you need for the pressure cooker and can a slow cooker work? If so how long would I need on the slow cooker?


For a regular pressure cooker, probably 50-60 minutes would suffice. I wouldn't recommend a slow cooker for this recipe, because once again, stewing dulls flavors. Prolonging the stewing process will dull the flavors further.

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 Post subject: Re: How To Make The Best Stew Ever, by Terra "Cool Guy" Dude
PostPosted: Sat Jan 02, 2016 1:27 am 
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Sounds good.

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 Post subject: Re: How To Make The Best Stew Ever, by Terra "Cool Guy" Dude
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Slow cookers are great, chuck everything thing in raw and cook on low for around 6 hours.

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