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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?

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  1. 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.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rudeboy

      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.

    2. 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 maniƩ (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).

      1. 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.
        Good luck!

        1 Reply
        1. re: monavano

          This is a pretty good recipe. It has the Guinness and chocolate to add more flavor. Best thing with stew is you can change up the ingredients if you don't like them or add more if you do.


        2. 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.

          1. 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.

            1. Here are a couple of other ingredients that I think can add a lot more flavor than a can of mushroom soup which I find to be very bland, you might no want to use all of them at once: garlic, hoisin sauce, browned carrots, smoked paprika, browned fresh mushrooms, curry powder, cumin, dark beer, rosemary, more garlic. And I certainly agree about browning the meat well, though I skip the flour and just salt and pepper the meat well.

              1. I make this in a Dutch oven.


                ETA: I never flour 'sturdy' meats. Things like fish and chicken cutlets, yes. But not beef and pork dishes.

                1. Thanks for all your tips. I do normally brown the meat beforehand and will do so again. My idea was to add both a can of beef stock and a can of mushroom gravy as well as garlic and paprika. Why do you think will these things all work together?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: ziggystardust

                    It all sounds fine until you mention the mushroom gravy, which I've never found to be anything but insipid at best. What do you think it brings to the dish flavorwise?

                    1. re: ziggystardust

                      As was mentioned above a number of beef stew recipes call for chicken stock. Also red wine. I agree with escondido about the mushroom gravy. What about dried mushrooms that are reconstituted and added if you're going for that flavor? Also tomato paste enhances flavor greatly. What about onions? Although good paprika has flavor I'm not sure it's going to stand up to all the other things going on. A CH uses it for color only :)

                      1. re: ziggystardust

                        I agree with most other posters that mushroom gravy is unlikely to help. If you're looking to bump up the beef flavor, (or umami flavor), then I'd add either diced fresh mushrooms (or some crumbled dried mushrooms), worchestershire sauce, or some anchovy paste (a couple teaspoons - you won't taste anchovy at all, but it'll boost flavor). I think what you're trying to do with the can of mushroom gravy is boost that umami taste - so why not skip the can and use the purer and more concentrated ingredients, without the salt and preservatives? Garlic is always good, but I'm not sure about the paprika. That might get lost. Also, a couple tablespoons of tomato paste works really well to boost umami.

                        I'm not anti-can. But I think there are very few things that a canned version does as good or better than using the fresh version, and often times working with the fresh version is just as easy as opening the can.