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Nov 5, 2008 05:59 AM

Cooking beef stew and it tastes awful! Help me fix this.

I got a beef stew recipe from Cooks Illustrated and rather than follow the steps in order, I decided to just throw all of the ingredients into a crockpot and see what happens. The ingredients are:

3 pounds chuck-eye roast , cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 medium onions , chopped coarse (about 2 cups)
3 medium cloves garlic , minced
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup red wine (preferably full-bodied)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
6 small boiling potatoes , peeled and halved
4 large carrots , peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 cup frozen peas (6 ounces), thawed
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

It's only been in the crockpot for about 3 hours on high (I started it late) but just took a taste and it tastes like a thin watery nothing of a stew. I have about three more hours before I have to serve it to finicky kids and wondering if I should do anything else to it at this point. Maybe take the top off and let it reduce and thicken? Or will continuing the slow cook sort it all out on its own?


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  1. more salt and pepper. keep it on the crock pot for longer and in the last 30 minutes, if it hasn't reduced enough to combat the wateriness, make a flour/water mixture to thicken.

    1 Reply
    1. re: charlesbois

      I agree - and you might have to add a little more at the end. ....also, maybe a dash or 2 of Worcestershire at the last 15 or so minutes. Either a flour or cornstarch slurry whisked then added will thicken the gravy.

    2. With the top of the crockpot on or off? I assume taking the top off will enhance the flavor while it thickens?

      1. There are a few ingredients in this recipe that come into question. First - using broth of any kind in a stew, as opposed to stock, seems a bit odd. Then comes the question as to why chicken stock and not beef stock. Next, the peas. Peas are a starchy ingredient and add sweetness to the recipe. I would never use them in a beef stew. Next, the onions. What variety of onions were used. Were they sliced, chopped or minced before going into the pot? Cut onions into small pieces to lessen the sharpness of their flavor in your stew,. Chopped small, onions produce a sweeter, almost imperceptible influence in your stew. Leaving the pieces larger will allow more of the onion's sharpness to be revealed in the finished product. The choice of onions, white, yellow, Vidalia, Maui, Walla Walla, etc. Based upon the seasonal availability of certain varieties, my guess is you probably found Bermuda onions most plentiful. Given the world market we share today, that may not be the case so I won't go into the specifics of Bermuda onions.
        Now, how to save it. If it isn't already too late, try disolving a couple of teaspoons of beef bullion to the pot. Just remember to take into account the amount of salt in your bullion (or whatever similar product you happen to use) so you don't end up with a "too salty" stew.
        The other suggestions you've seen here are good ones so I'd suggest you try those ideas at the same time.

        1 Reply
        1. re: todao

          Thanks. Although the recipe called for broth, I did use stock as that was all I had. I thought it was strange to use chicken stock as well rather than beef but that's what the recipe called for. The Bittman book also says you can use either so can't be too bad an idea.

          As for onions, I used yellow onions. Unfortunately don't have Worcestershire or beef bullion although I do have beef Oxo cubes (I'm in the UK). Might give that a shot but wondering if it will conflict with the other flavors.

        2. This is the recipe I usually make and when I make in the oven I find that after the first hour it is nothing but horrible winey sludge but after the next hour its all thickened up and delicious. So on the one hand I think if you can stick it out it will be fine. I do wonder: did you brown the onions, beef and flour? If not you might be losing out on a lot of some flavour. Did you throw the peas in already? They'll be pretty grey after 6 hours in the pot. I also find with my slow cooker that onions take on an unpleasant taste so I don't usually use it for things that rely so heavily on onions for flavour, but I often have (over-) heated arguments with the thing so maybe its just baaaad.

          Todao: the recipe is ofcourse hopelessly retentive a la most of Cook's Illustrated recipes and of course they have weird rationales for all their choices. You can probably find them on their website, but I seem to remember part of the reason for the chicken broth is that is actually contains higher proportion of protein ingredients than beef broth and therefore has more flavour rather than just the salt & co of beef broth. All I know is it tastes quite different and the end product tastes different too. I'm sure homemade stock would be best but.... The peas are supposed to go in at the last 5 minutes to add a bit of bright green not for flavour. I think the reason this recipe hangs around our kitchen is because the cooking times work well and the end product has the right balance of ingredients (meat to veg) and the right texture. What I have yet to figure out is how to fiddle the proportions for the slow cooker.

          Btw the pork and prune variation is very popular (even among people who think prunes are gross)..

          1 Reply
          1. re: waver

            Hi Waver,

            No, I unfortunately did not brown the beef or onions. I was on the fence about that but in a rush and wanted to get the whole thing going. Next time. I'm also leaving out the peas. My kids are not big fans of those.

            It has thickened up and I also added an Oxo cube so not too bad. Potatoes haven't softened enough though. Time to buy a dutch oven I think!

          2. In the future BROWN the meat. That's where the deep meaty flavor comes from.