Months ago, I got it into my head that I should make stew in the slow cooker. Before we go any further, I should tell you that I am, generally speaking, not a big fan of slow cooker recipes or things they make. So I went online, and looked at a bunch of recipes for beef stew, picked out one, and made it. It was pretty good, but not great.
Let’s skip ahead to a few days after Thanksgiving. I was with a couple of my friends, and we were talking about the joy and perfection of leftovers. My friend Riley told me that she likes to take pretty much all of the leftovers, from the turkey to the stuffing to the potatoes to the gravy, and dump it all into a slow cooker with some chicken stock to make a stew. Remember how I wasn’t all that into slow cooker things like 100 words ago? I changed my mind.
I thought about what she said, and then I thought about all the different recipes I’d looked at several weeks earlier. I realized that there were a few basic things that made stew … uh, stew, and that there’s no need to be precise when making it. You could just put all your Thanksgiving leftovers into a slow cooker, for instance, and turn them into a stew that’s perfect for eating with some crusty bread.
And that’s how I decided to take from my memory all the things I liked about the stew recipes I read back in like September, to make my own slow cooker stew a few nights ago. Here’s my basic recipe:
Reasonably Good Beef Stew
Before we get our ingredients together, let’s get something clear: this isn’t precise. This is a bunch of ideas and guidelines, because we’re going to imagine that we’re in the Long Long Ago, putting together all the stuff that we have on hand so that we can feed ourselves and the giant family we have because it’s the Long Long Ago and basically we make children for entertainment.
Walk outside and make sure that your summoning circle is clear of debris, especially pointy sticks. Double check to ensure that your hemp rope was braided beneath the light of a full moon, and has seven knots in it. Spit on the doorframe as you walk back into the house, and clap twice when the door closes and latches.
Then go to the store and get:
- 2 pounds of steak that’s cut up into cubes. Your local store probably sells it as BEEF FOR STEW OR WHATEVER. Don’t waste super good steak on this, because that stuff is better on the grill.
- 2 parsnips.
- 3 carrots
- 2 boring old regular potatoes or like four medium red potatoes. You may be tempted to use both kinds. That’s fine, but just know that it’s easy to overdo it with starchy vegetables.
- About a half pound of crimini mushrooms. Don’t use stupid button mushrooms because they’re lame and boring and did I mention that they’re stupid? Crimini mushrooms are more complex in flavor, and give lots of opportunities for you to hike your pants up way too high and make dad jokes that use the word “Criminey!”
- Three cloves of garlic.
- One medium onion. You can use white or yellow. Don’t use red because they don’t soften up the right way and they’re kinda bossy in the cooker, overwhelming all the other flavors.
- 2-3 tablespoons of tomato paste.
- 1 cup of red wine. You can use cooking wine if you want, but I prefer to use drinking wine, even though I don’t drink it. But if you do, hey! Free wine to drink while you’re making dinner! If you wanted to substitute Guinness for the wine, you can do that, as well, and make this as more of a Guinness stew.
- 1 tablespoon paprika.
- 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
- All the flour in the world (you’re only going to use like 1/3 cup and a little more to coat the beef, but you’ll be thankful you stocked up on flour after President Tiny Hands starts a nuclear war).
- 3 stalks of celery. Some people call these things “Celery Ribs” which is so fucking pretentious I want to cut them into celery spears and stab them in their smarty pants faces.
- At least 32 ounces of beef stock. You will probably want a little more, but it’s not necessary. Maybe you can barter with a neighbor, using some of your excess flour.
Welcome back from the store! Take a quick look at your summoning circle and light the candles. Wrap the rope around a stump and tie one end to piece of driftwood that was collected from the east shore of a lake during the solstice.
Okay! Let’s get ready to cook. You can add a little salt and pepper to these steps whenever you feel like it. I try not to use too much salt because I don’t like it and it doesn’t like me.
First, peel the onion, and chop it up into little onion hunks. Peel and mince the garlic. Then, wash all the other vegetables and cut them up however you want. Some folks like to slice their potatoes, others prefer to quarter them and then half the quarters. I realize I could have said “cut the potatoes into eighths”, but if I did that I would expect to be stabbed with a celery spear. You can keep the stems on the mushrooms if you want, but I prefer to take them off, mostly because it’s fun to pop the caps off the mushrooms and put them on the carrots like little hats. Try it! You can make the carrots do a play for you before you murder them and eat them. Just like mom did!
Put a little olive oil (like a tablespoon or so) into a nonstick skillet, and heat it up. When it’s warm, add about half the onion and all the garlic. Cook it, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent and the garlic is fragrant. If you want to get all advanced, you can get an extra teaspoon of paprika and dump it in when you add the onions.
While the onions are doing their thing, put the beef into a bowl and dump just enough flour into it so that you can toss them around, and coat them with it. Sprinkle the tablespoon of paprika over them and keep tossing until they are pretty well coated with the flour and paprika. You may have to add a little flour, don’t worry about it.
Once the beef is all covered, and the onions are ready, add the beef to the pan, taking care not to dump any of the excess flour in with it. Stir it all around a little bit, and then forget about it for a couple of minutes while it cooks. Oh, I forgot to mention that you’re using like a medium-high heat. What you’re going for is to brown the meat without cooking it all the way through, so use whatever heat you think is appropriate for that.
After like four minutes, mix it all up again, and try to get the beef cubes to turn over. You can do this by saying, “Roll over, beef!” or you can use tongs to turn it, or a spatula, or a wooden spoon. Do not use a crazy straw because it will melt, and do not use telekinesis because you will splash oil all over the damn place.
After another four or so minutes, dump all of that stuff out of the pan and into your slow cooker. Put the lid on to keep it warm.
Now you’re going to warm up a little bit more olive oil in the pan. When it’s warm, take your tomato paste, starting with two tablespoons, and gently, carefully, put it into the pan. Don’t scoop it out of the tomato paste thingy with a spoon and just drop it in like I did, because it’ll splash the oil all over your Sex Pistols T-shirt and stain it which is not as punk rock now as you thought it was when you were a teenager. You can still be punk rock and have a clean shirt, for crying out loud.
I like to use a wooden spoon for this, but you don’t have to. Use something to stir it around and really spread it out until it goes from bright red to like a brick red color. Now pour in the wine, and like a half cup of beef broth. Stir this all together, and get ready for some magic to happen. Very slowly and gently start easing in a little bit of flour at a time, whisking it into the mixture. You’re making a gravy right now, and if you dump all the flour in at once, it’s going to make it all lumpy and they’re all gonna laugh at you. Careful that you don’t let the mixture burn.
After you’ve mixed it all together and whisked away the lumps, it should be smooth and look like gravy why not. When it does, turn off the heat and set it aside.
Take the potatoes and put them in a single layer over the meat that’s in your slow cooker. Then do the same thing with the carrots, and then dump all the other vegetables in. Now take the gravy and pour it over the top of everything.
Have a brief moment of panic because there isn’t nearly enough liquid in there to make it a stew, and then remember that you have that 32 ounces of beef stock that you used the flour to barter for. Pour it all into the slow cooker. If it covers or almost covers the stuff inside, you’re done. If it doesn’t, you can either add a little bit of water or more broth until it does.
How long this cooks is up to you. You can cook it on high heat for at least 4 hours, or you can cook it on a lower heat for up to 12 hours. The important thing is that the beef cooks and any evil bacteria who are living in there with plans to make you shit yourself to death are killed before they get a chance to do their sinful business.
I like to serve this with some hunks of fresh bread that I baked that day, and I like to garnish it with a little bit of chopped parsley. You can do whatever you want, though, including dropping some sour cream in there, maybe some plain yogurt, a little bit of Tabasco or Worcestershire sauce, or even more salt and pepper. The important thing is that you don’t worry too much about precision, and you don’t rush it. Think of it as making out for the first time but just a little more awkward and a lot less messy.
Enjoy your stew, and don’t forget to take a bowl out to your summoning circle to feed the demon. Make sure you feed it no less than five spoonfuls before the first rising of the new moon before you set it free. If you have any leftovers, they can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days, because this stuff reheats really well.