There’s this misconception about guisos or stews: they are hard to make. But guisos are extremely easy to prepare and not to mention economical to feed an entire hungry tribe. These easy stews just take a bit of time and patience until the protein in the meat breaks down, the juices are released, and all the flavors come together. But, that time usually goes unattended.
Guisos are super comforting, yet they are humble in nature, rich in flavors, and needless to say, very fulfilling, and perfect to make ahead of time and for the entire family. We call them comfort food because they makes us feel so good.
STEWING UP SOME SECRETS
Yes, all you need is love…and one pot, a good cast iron pot like Le Creuset, or a slow cooker—which I don’t have, so I stick to how my mom used to make it: the old-fashioned way. Going back to the pot…everything goes in there. How easy is that! Then you either let it cook on the stove for 3-4 hours or so, or in the oven. Whichever works best for you. I have tried both ways. Letting it cook in the oven helps me to keep my hands off the stew instead of checking on it all the time and wishing it was done already.
Read Related: Frugal Foodie: Enfrijoladas
MEATY TIPS WORTH NOTING
Yes to browning the meat first. • Nothing worse than a bland guiso. So, please do brown the meat at the beginning. It helps to develop more succulent flavors and richer colors.
Breaking down your own roast. • Pre-packaged stew meat often delivers unknown, diverse cuts of beef in very inconsistent sizing—critical for even cooking. So with that said, I do prefer to cut my own stew meat and I hope you get inspired to do the same.
The best cut. • Definitely buy the shoulder of the animal. This meat is tough, full of beefy flavor and inter-muscular fat. That fat is going to melt into the meat keeping it super moist and tender, and with very rich flavors. Besides, this cut is very economical, like flat iron steak, shank, or chuck eye rib.
Cutting the meat. • Start by removing any excess fat and silver skin. If you are working with a large piece, separate in smaller pieces just by tearing it apart with your hands along any fat line. Meat should come apart easily, but if it doesn’t or you don’t want to use your hands, use either a chef knife or boning knife—the best to get inside the cut and remove any fat and silver skin (that filmy tissue that coats the meat, either inside or outside of the meat that never breakdowns during cooking like fat does, but becomes tougher and tougher as cooking time increases) due to its flexible blade.
Remove silver skin. • Locate the silver skin and slip your knife underneath it, make a cut and pull it out.
Remove excess fat. • Remove external, hard, big chunks of fat, those that never melt. But leave the marbling (or internal fat) alone. You want to keep that fat.
Size does matter. • Once your meat is cleaned and trimmed, cut in even pieces just between 1-inch or 1½-inches for easier browning and cooking.
Great job! Wasn’t too hard, was it? Now, before you move onto the next step, gathering the rest of your ingredients for these easy stews, remember to wash your cutting board and hands thoroughly.
CLASSIC & COMFORTING BEEF STEW
For an extra addition or twist to this classic you may add dumplings or perogi. I prefer to use tuber or root vegetables instead.
4 lb. beef for stew, shank, or chuck eye, trimmed, excess fat and silver skin removed, diced in even pieces of 1 or 1½ inch in size
½ cup all-purpose flour or Wondra
sea salt or kosher and fresh pepper
2 TBSP unsalted butter, ghee or lard
8 oz. white onions, sliced
1½ lb. potatoes, quartered
4 cups beef stock (homemade or store-bought), low in sodium, preferably organic, or water
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
- Place flour in a plastic bag, season well with salt and pepper.
- Drop the meat inside and shake it well to coat evenly all pieces.
- Melt the butter in a Dutch oven. Add the meat and cook until browned, stirring constantly, about 5-7 minutes.
- (At this point, if you choose, you can add some tomato paste and then deglaze with a splash of red wine for extra color and flavor.)
- Add the onions and cook until browned, about 2-3 minutes. Keep stirring.
- Add the potatoes and stir to combine.
- Pour in the stock or water and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to remove the flour and all the flavoursome bits that are stuck there.
- Cover with either a lid or foil and place the stew in the oven. Reduce temperature to 275ºF and let it cook undisturbed for about 3 hours.
- Serve with your favourite side including plantains, rice, dumplings or just by itself with a chunk of fresh bread. And needless to say, a generous glass (or two) of Malbec, Shiraz, Tempranillo or a rich Red Blend.
For an extra twist add a sliced Spanish chorizo and jalapeño pepper to the beginning of the process, right after the meat, and season to taste with either chipotle, achiote, pimenton dulce or crushed pepper.