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Jan 9, 2010 07:18 AM

How to give beef stew more punch?

I'm planning on doing a slow cooker beef stew this weekend. Other than the meat itself, it'll be a pretty standard mix; carrots, onions, potatoes and celery. Every recipe I've tried including my mother's, I've found hearty but ultimately bland. I want to give it more kick. Last time, I put in cardomom, which was nice. This time I'm thinking of paprika. Would that work? Any other suggestions?

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  1. 1/2 a chipotle? Or deglaze w/Port.

    4 Replies
    1. re: thedaniels

      Oh port, absolutely. This is what I've used for years now and the stew never lasts long 'cause it gets snarfed up. I've tried a good red wine but it just doesn't get the richness and yummy factor that port adds. I've deglazed with the port and even just added it in during the last hour of cooking with a flour slurry when my stew needed thickening. Either way was good but deglazing with port was better. I add plenty of thyme and marjoram and at least one if not 2 bay leaves. My family isn't particularly fond of paprika so I don't go there unless I'm specifically making a paprika based dish. Also, be sure you are using beef stock or broth that is good and rich. You can't really do a good stew with meat and water. Also be sure you are getting your meat really nice and browned/seared before the slow cooking starts, that's essential to a good rich flavor development. And don't go too light on the salt. All those veggies and meat will need plenty of salt to make them taste more like themselves. I always use plain kosher for stews and save the sea salt for something where I want the flavor of the salt to be more apparent.

      1. re: aggiecat

        I agree at least with a red wine. Red wine really brightens the taste of stew and I am usually not a big red wine fan but it makes a big difference in stew and beef sauces.

        You could probably add a couple of teaspoons of dijon mustard at the end too since that is a big addition to beef pan sauces and what is the stew liquid if it isn't a sauce?

        1. re: aggiecat

          Definitely a robust red wine. But also make sure the beef is really nicely seared/browned on all sides. If the carbohydrates in the meat aren't adequately caramelized the flavors won't really develop. I also brown the veg, esp the onions in the beef fat. Cracked pepper during the braise is essential. I add minced garlic to the jus just before serving. As one who loves spicy, I find an umami-laden stew really doesn't need a spice kick; maybe the blandness is due to a bit of undersalting??

      2. I made Guiness Beef Stew, which is more rich and flavorful to me.

        But, I don't make it in a slow cooker though. I did find a link for one that is done in
        the slow cooker for you.

        6 Replies
        1. re: mcel215

          I second the Guiness suggestion, and add garlic and lots of rosemary.

          1. re: tzurriz

            I third the Guinness suggestion. I had this in a restaurant once and it was awesome- served with a cheddar "cracker" (really just cheddar tossed with flour and fried into a thin crisp patty). I also like a bit of tomato paste to add to the richness. I also use bay leaf and juniper berries, love that flavor.

          2. re: mcel215

            4th--Guinness is a magical ingredient paired with beef...or corned beef...or chocolate...or Bailey's. What is more versatile than that? :)

            1. re: mcel215

              Along similar lines, chimay is wonderful for beef stew.

              1. re: mcel215

                do you have the non slow cooker recipe for the guiness beef stew?

                1. re: rcburli

                  Dust your stew meat with flour. Brown it up really good on all sides. Take it out of the pot (I use a large dutch oven). Throw in a large onion, chunked, and however much chopped garlic you want. Saute until it starts to smell really good. Throw the meat back in the pan. Pour 1/2 a guiness over everything. Toss in some rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Add enough water or stock to cover everything and simmer for at least 2 hours. Add your potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc. Pour in the rest of the beer. Add enough other liquid to cover again and check your seasonings. Simmer for another hour. Tada! You have stew!

              2. I use a good helping of garlic in my beef stew, tons of onions (about double what the recipe calls for), fresh ground black pepper, and paprika & bay leaf.

                2 Replies
                1. re: elfcook

                  Bay leaf was my first thought. Such a tasty little leaf.

                  1. I would recommend following Julia Child's recipe for Beef Bourgouione in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". I have cooked it twice now, and it makes a helluva punch. The 'beefiness' comes from searing the meat chunks, using tomato paste and browning the onions and carrots, and using bacon.

                    I read an article in cooks' illustrated, and they also recommended tomato paste, as well as a couple of anchioves.

                    But yes, a beef stew, with none of the ingredients browned or seared, but merely thrown into a slow cooker with water would be very bland indeed.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: arupiper

                      All of the above plus a hearty dash of Worcestershire Sauce (Wooster) .

                      1. re: arupiper

                        Ditto on the searing and browning.

                        Even when doing a pot roast, my 80+ year old mom still scolds me to this day for not searing it before putting it into the crock pot.

                        An aside - Leftover roast beef was the base for her stew. My dad didn't like leftovers, so Sunday dinner (after church) would be roast beef. Tuesday dinner (night time) would be a simple, but hearty and flavorful beef stew served over rice. It's an art that I've never been able to duplicate.

                        1. re: CocoaNut

                          Third the searing and browning. Make sure your heavy-bottomed pan and oil are extremely hot before you add the meat. There should be a loud SSSSSS when you add the meat.
                          Don't crowd the pan when you sear. Then you're steaming instead of searing. Sear your meat in batches if need be.
                          Begin with a few slices of chopped bacon, if you like.
                          Use concentrated beef stock. Don't use bouillion cubes.
                          Use full-bodied, inexpensive red wine.
                          Adequate salt and freshly cracked pepper (slightly less salt if using canned stock with lots of sodium)
                          I like to add orange zest.
                          Don't use a crock-pot or slow cooker -- the heat isn't hot enough so it won't concentrate the liquids and flavors or form the Maillard reactions on the beef that increase flavor. This is the same reaction that creates flavor when you brown beef.
                          Braise instead, in the oven for two hours at 350 degrees. Liquid should come up not quite to the top of the meat. Use a snug-fitting lid.
                          I like to use instant tapioca as my thickener but you can use flour.

                          All these factors build intensity and develop layers of flavor.

                          Since my sense is that you want the classic rich taste of beef stew, with a great gravy,
                          I don't believe in muddying the classic flavors by adding spices like paprika, smoked paprika, bay leaf, or curry. I don't add tomatoes either, though a tablespoon of tomato paste would be fine.

                          I make a big batch of caramelized onions separately and keep those on hand, and serve a nice dollop of them when I plate. These take a few hours, so make them the day ahead. If I don't add potatoes and carrots to the braising pot, I make roasted garlic mashed potatoes. For the carrots, I steam them, then dress them lightly with good olive oil and freshly cracked pepper and sea salt. Serve this with an average-priced drinkable red wine.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            wow your tips are amazing! thanks for sharing

                      2. Also, instead of salt, soy sauce adds a richer flavor, and the sodium.