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What do you put in stew?

The item about slow cookers started me thinking about stew, and what to put or not put in. My cooking heritage is mostly from eastern europe, and tomato NEVER went into the stew pot. I think I must have been in my early teens before I saw a tomato based stew. Often there were noodles, usually potatoes, carrots, celery, and beef. I don't much like celery and usually substitute green bell peppers. Sometimes I use stock, sometimes wine - usually red - and on occasion beer. Seasonings vary depending on what else I have put in and what I have on hand. Would love to hear the variations others grew up with or have adopted.

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  1. I think that parsnips and turnip add a nice depth of flavor to beef stew. I sometimes use a couple tablespoons of tapioca as a thickener, and I like to add some red wine as well.

    5 Replies
    1. re: rmperry

      Second on the "tapioca as a thickner" for slow cooked stew. What a surprise that was.

      1. re: rmperry

        Yep, I like to add parsnips too, even w/ potatoes in there. It adds another dimension.

        1. re: rmperry

          I recently tried tapioca as a thickener and while I prefer it to flour or arrowroot, I'm still uncertain about ratio of starch to liquid. Do you have a rule-of-thumb on this?

          1. re: Masonville

            My slow cooker recipe for Texas Chili (from The Everyday Low-Carb Slow Cooker Cookbook, K. Broihier and K. Mayone) calls for 15 ounces of beef stock and two tablespoons of quick cooking tapioca, if that's of help to you.

            I had to pull that book out to refresh my memory; I think I'll make that very recipe this coming week. It's gooder than good and I'm brushing up my slow cooker skills now that we're getting ready for our first Phoenix summer.

            1. re: mandycat

              Thanks, Mandycat--that does help. Good luck w the chili. Last time I was in Phoenix was October, and it was 110. I belong in a colder climate.

        2. Red wine, beef, beef broth, potato, carrot, celery, onion, thyme, salt and pepper, a little flour for thickening.

          1. Instead of wine or beer, try vermouth. It has a lovely woodiness. A nice autumnal variation would be all root vegetables: sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips.

            Garlic is totally necessary, as are onions, either chopped or pearl. A parmesan rind can add a nice nuttiness, as can a dash of nutmeg.

            1 Reply
            1. re: katecm

              If I add garlic, I like to add whole roasted cloves. I'll either roast a head and put some in, or saute cloves in olive oil until golden. They'll fall apart in the stew, giving it that yummy roasted garlic flavor throughout.

            2. I put a lot of what you do in your stew but I also add avocados!

              2 Replies
              1. re: Sarah P

                Interesting. Avocados as thickener?

                1. re: Sarah P

                  Whoooooah. This I'm interested in. Never heard of a cooked avocado. What's it do--does it thicken? What's the cooked color? Is the taste altered by cooking?

                2. I brown the meat first and deglaze with wine, and my 'secret' spice is a lot (3 T?) of smoked paprika.I put barley in to thicken, all the root veggies, and whole canned tomatoes instead of the paste or suace. I use beef stock for the base. I put a whole clove of garlic in just about everything I cook but eggs :)

                  1. I brown the meat, add water and start simmering for a couple of hours. During this time, I start adding some paprika (smoked if you have it), season salt, ground clove, ground allspice, garlic, onion, a couple of bay leaf's, salt, pepper and brown sugar. Sometimes I add tomato's - depending on how I feel. As for other vegetable additives, it depends on what I have. Diced potatoes, carrots, celery, green beans, corn, peas and if on hand - diced red/green/yellow peppers. Usually thicken with a flour slurry. But I am so ready to go for the tapioca thing. Great idea from the above posters.

                    1. I like to brown the onions at least and I deglaze them with red wine.The red wine really helps. A tablespoon of mustard helps also but I would put that in at the end. Put a splash more of red wine the last 30 minutes.

                      I also highly recommend using a few teaspoons of 'better than boullion" beef base. It is fairly salty so cut down on the salt elsewhere.

                      By the way, Cook's Illustrated recommends instant tapioca as a thickener in crockpot dishes because flour loses its thickening power after 4-5 hours.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: tonka11_99

                        Oh - browning of the onions - I forgot about that and it does add another layer of flavor!

                      2. beer, carrots, potatoes, onions, beef (carbonade al flammande)

                        1. Here is an old article that has some recipes using tapioca. This will give folks an idea of proportions for adding tapioca.


                          1. For me, pretty much everything can go in a stew, except Coca Cola and Pepsi. :)

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              If Sarah can put avocados in stew, you can put Coca Cola in it or at least Dr. Pepper. Yep you read it right... avocados. Up about 9 notes above me. I have now seen everything.

                              1. re: tonka11_99


                                Thanks for pointing it out, I didn't read the avocados post from Sarah. Still, as much as avocados seem a bit strange for stew, I think coca cola is much wield-er. What do you think? :)

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  I was in such shock over avocados in a stew, I figured you could put rocks in it and not do any more than avocados. Sorry, I am absolutely dumbfounded with the avocados. It is just not something I can wrap my brain around.

                                  1. re: tonka11_99

                                    I'm with you, dumbfounded. Mm, maybe have to try it in chicken stew?

                                    1. re: bushwickgirl

                                      I like avocados but I'm not sure I am brave enough to try that.

                                      It is the strangest thing I have seen with avocados since Alton Brown made a cake icing with avocados because of their high fat content.

                                      1. re: tonka11_99

                                        When I were in college, I once mix my cereal with coca cola. (the campus cafeteria ran out of whole milk, and I were going to contaminate my cereal with some nonfat milk, ya know).

                            2. I didn't grow up with this (we didn't eat stew and only had pot roast in the slow cooker), but I was house sitting for my parents one year when I was 21 or so. My younger brother (18) came by one night because I had a cold. He had said on the phone he was going to bring me soup, and I assumed it would be a can or from a deli.

                              He had never cooked before in his life and walked in with a few grocery bags. So cute. He filled a stockpot with water and beef stock, brought to a boil, then put in a long thin cut of beef and three whole white potatoes. I watched in horror and confusion as he rinsed carrots, green beans and cauliflower. An hour or two later, he presented me with the moistest beef and most flavorful (whole) potato I have ever tasted from a stew. He didn't cut the carrots at all. I don't know what seasonings he used, as my taste buds were a little off, but it was one of the sweetest things I've ever seen him do. And surprisingly the stew was delicious, comforting, and flavorful!

                                1. Based upon my mom's recipe from way on back:

                                  lean beef
                                  beef stock and water
                                  bay leaves
                                  salt and pepper
                                  garlic powder
                                  minced onion
                                  tomato paste

                                  This is somewhat similar to minestrone, actually, but without any beans or pasta. Also pretty soupy, rather than thick, which I prefer.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                    I'm quite fond of hominy and will add it in next time I make beef stew. 100 oz cans of Bush's Hominy are on sale this week at my local, maybe I'll pick one up for when the gas comes back on, although what'll do with the rest of it? That's a lot of hominy. Does it freeze?

                                    Green or black olives, capers, prunes, quince and figs are nice in lamb stews. There is a classic Greek beef stew with quince, but I've never tried it; easy enough, though:


                                    About the only thing I don't put in stew is green bell pepper. The pepper's essence tends to overwhelm all other flavors in a low, braise, although added at the end might be ok.

                                  2. I was very bored with my beef stew, after making it for years. I tried all different kinds of velggies/herbs and it all just tasted blah to me. I've added, wine, stock, beer you name it. Nothing inspired me to say 'wow'.... until someone on here posted a recipe for Mahogany Beef Stew. All I can say, who ever you are, thank you it's fantastic. Everyone person I make this for raves about it. and wants the recipe.

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: mcel215

                                      What's the unique ingredient that makes Mahogany Beef Stew so wonderful?

                                      1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                        Hoison sauce, which may not be unique, but I never would have thought to add it to my stew.

                                          1. re: onceadaylily

                                            I've used Hoisin. It adds another nice layer of depth if used sparingly, say a few tablespoons. It's easy to use too much - then your stew is sweet.

                                            1. re: Aravisea

                                              Hoison sauce in stew? I do not think I will like that in my stew.

                                              1. re: Aravisea

                                                A few T., eh? That actually sounds like quite a bit to me. Next time I make stew I think I may start with only a couple of t.

                                                Now is it best added early or late in the cooking process?

                                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                  The first time I tried mahogany stew I was following this recipe, which calls for half a cup of hoisin: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                                  Half a cup was, IMO, way too much. A few tablespoons made much more sense to me and the time or two that I tried it in that amount, we liked it. Don't remember exactly when I was adding it, though.

                                                  I'm interested in mcel215's recipe...would you share where you got it?

                                                  1. re: Aravisea

                                                    I got it on here, jotted down the recipe and now use it all the time.

                                                    I just read the Eipcurious recipe, it's the same.

                                                    My family loves this recipe, the 1/2 cup of Hoisin is not too much for us. It has a nice balace of sweet and savory and I serve it over the Horseradish mashed that was recommended..... Yum!