Slow cooker beef stew question
My experience in cooking beef stew is that while hearty, it's often bland. My latest idea to try and remedy this is to add a can of mushroom gravy to the mix in the slow cooker. Would this work or would it create a weird consistency?
Use a rich beef stock instead of water, if that's what you are adding. You need salt, too.
The slow cooker method often omits key steps, like browning the beef to get some carmelization. Often people use flour in this step to also thicken the gravy. You could also add tons of mushrooms, mustard, onions, celery, etc. Don't add the mushroom gravy, or any cans of anything. Look up five real recipes and then create your own way.
I agree with the beef stock or add a couple cubes of beef bouillon and then water. I also use a couple glugs of Worcestershire sauce or steak sauce. I often rinse out my A1 bottles and use this in my beef stew. I brown my meat before adding it to the crock pot that way you don't get red foam yuck as the stew cooks. And to quote Ann Burrell "brown food tastes good" Plus the flour that the meat is dredged in before browning thickens the stew.
My best recipe includes some minced sundried tomato to add richness to the broth. I brown the meat before starting and thicken at the very end with a beurre manié (turn up the slow cooker to high, knead a tbsp of unsalted butter with a tbsp of flour and drop it in the slow cooker to melt).
There's nothing wrong with using a can of mushroom gravy, so start with that if you want. But, you have to use what you've got and enhance it.
Start with seasoning and browning the beef cubes to develop crust and flavor. If you have red wine or beef stock, add it to the bottom of the pan once you're done browning. Scrape the fond and pour the liquid in the crock.
Add another layer of flavor with herbs and spices of your choice, like rosemary and bay leaf.
As long as you know how to add layers of flavor and dimension, go ahead and use some help from a can of this or a can of that. Your mushroom gravy probably has some thickeners so your sauce should be nice and creamy.
Slow cookers take so long that a lot of flavors just don't hold up that long. I have a few tips.
Augment your broth or stock with "Better Than Bouillon" beef base. Go light on the salt because the beef base is pretty salty.
Use a little red wine in the beginning and at the end.
At the end put a teaspoon of dijon mustard in the sauce. That will liven it up.
Be sure to brown your beef before putting it in the slow cooker... makes a big difference.
Add any of your herbs and spices the last half hour.
Use more garlic than you normally would.
Two of Cook's Illustrated's beef stew recipes (Hearty Beef Stew and Best Beef Stew) call for chicken broth rather than beef.
I always toss the beef in "spiced" flour and brown before adding to the pot. I also deglaze the pan with a cup of red wine.
I would eschew anything canned in my stew.