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I need ideas to add depth to a beef dish...

I may be hip deep right now in baking and taco bar prep for this weekend, but having made this for myself a few days ago, I could use some ideas!

There's a dish I make for myself frequently. I saute onions and mushrooms in butter till soft and golden, but not really caramelized. Oh, a bit of garlic in there, too, but just a little. I remove the veg and then add either thinly sliced chicken, pork or beef. When that's finished, I add back the mushrooms/onions, then heavy cream and a bit of Better than Bouillon, chicken if chicken or pork, beef if beef. Let it all reduce then serve over whatever I'm in the mood for.

Now, here's the problem. If I use pork or chicken, I also add thyme and maybe a bit of mustard. I don't like the thyme/mustard with beef but haven't come up with anything else. I mean, it's good as is but I'd like an extra level of flavor.

Maybe a bit of tomato paste? Horseradish? Chopped parsley? Most herbs don't really go with beef (for my palate.)


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  1. Don't hit me if I say anchovies? Melted into the sauce?

    4 Replies
    1. re: pinehurst

      No hits at all - I've been wanting to try that trick and good call, this might be the perfect opportunity!

      1. re: pinehurst

        I double recommend! It won't taste fishy at all and anchovies seem to make everything better.

          1. re: pinehurst

            Yup, I used it in a brisket just the other day and the sauce was better than the meat. Anchovies are one of the umami powerhouses.

            Just don't tell the ninnies there are anchovies, they'll never know to tell you how much they don't like anchovies.

          2. Try one anise star. It will add a bunch of depth.

            5 Replies
            1. re: primebeefisgood

              Interesting. Does it actually taste of anise or is that just the name? I don't think I've ever had it unless it was, like in this, hidden in the ingredients.

              1. re: Violatp

                You may have tasted a hint of it in Pho, and no, it really isn't that foreign a flavor. I think you'd like it if used sparingly.

                1. re: primebeefisgood

                  I second this recommendation, it ups the beefy flavour as does fish sauce, soy sauce, Worcester sauce, tomato paste...

                  1. re: primebeefisgood

                    I'll pick some up to have on hand next time I make this!

                    1. re: primebeefisgood

                      This is an interesting recommendation, but I'd underscore the "use sparingly" part. I love Pho and use star anise there. But you'd have to use VERY little to avoid having it remain a distinctive, discernible flavoring element. It's powerful stuff. Presumably, the degree of freshness is a factor, as well.

                      I'd liken it to black cardamon in its flavoring power.

                  1. re: Njchicaa

                    I don't like red wine, but I have used it in beef stew before so maybe having a bottle around for cooking use would work...

                    1. re: Violatp

                      I don't drink wine but I love cooking with it.

                      1. re: Njchicaa

                        I agree, I don't drink wine either but love to cook with it. It doesn't leave an alcohol flavor at all and adds richness and additional complexity to the dish.

                    2. re: Njchicaa

                      And try this -- I learned this from a Graham Kerr book. Saute the tomato paste until it starts to color and stick a bit. Then add the broth or wine. It adds amazing depth of flavor.

                      1. re: jmckee

                        Yup. When I was brainstorming on my own and thinking tomato paste, I was thinking to add it to the pan when I sauteed the beef. I don't crowd the pan, so there's plenty of room to cook the paste, so to speak.

                        1. re: jmckee

                          Yea, great tip! I always saute until slightly browned and no longer smells "tomato-ey"

                        2. re: Njchicaa

                          remember that there are flavor compounds that are only soluble in alcohol (there are also water-soluble and oil-soluble flavor compounds)....so a splash of red wine in the beef, or a splash of sherry or white wine in the chicken/pork will release those extra flavors. (do make sure you use "real" wine or sherry....cooking wine and cooking sherry are vile imposters.)

                          Lots of sauce have wine in them -- it tastes completely different in a dish than it will ever taste in a glass.

                          I'd head for tomato paste and wine, too.

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            meant to add....you can add beer (for beef stew, a heavier ale, porter, or stout would stand up to the bigger flavors more capably) if you just can't resign yourself to wine.

                          2. you could try some sherri, or a splash of balsamic at the very end (off the burner).
                            agree with others about the anchovy. Also some Worcestershire or soy sauce would help. Maybe a bit of paprika?

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: cleopatra999

                              I never have sherry, but I could see balsamic - that's a good one, too! Paprika, cool, I always have that.

                              These are great ideas, everyone, thanks!!

                              1. re: Violatp

                                sherry is much more shelf-stable than wine. the latter will go off in just a couple of days unless you use it quickly.

                            2. I would switch around the steps of your preparation a bit. When you add meat on top of mushrooms, you are steaming the meat with the vegetables instead getting a good brown on it.

                              Instead, sear the meat in the hot pan first, and then set it aside. Make an effort to build up a brown crust or 'fond' in the pan when you are cooking the meat. This can be deglazed with the fluids released from cooking the mushrooms and onions and will add a lot of flavor to the final sauce. When you reintroduce the browned meat into the pan, add a few dashes of Maggi seasoning, fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce; basically any high-MSG condiment will add to the 'meatiness' of the dish. When the cream sauce comes together at the end, finish with a splash of a neutral-tasting acid like rice vinegar or lemon juice. This wakes up the tongue and brings out the flavors of rich sauces.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                I like your idea but let me clarify. While I do cook the onions/mushrooms first, I remove them from the pan before cooking the meat. And even though I whine to myself about the separate steps, if I have a certain amount, I do cook the meat in batches precisely so it does sear off nicely.

                                When I add the onions.mushrooms back, there is always a certain amount of liquid that has accumulated at the bottom of the bowl and that works really well to release the fond the meat has created.

                                I'm not sure why I do it this way, except that the onions/mushrooms take longer to cook than the meat? Or just habit for this particular dish.

                                Maggi seasoning is a good call. I love that stuff. Well, I just love MSG. Ha!

                                1. re: Violatp

                                  Sounds like you have the basics down pat. What cut of meat are you using?

                                  1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                    Usually sirloin. Sometimes boneless short ribs if they look good.

                              2. I was going to suggest tomato paste as well.

                                Basically, you need to add salt (anchovies, Maggi), acid (wine, vinegar, tomato) or both. Plus some heat, if you like.

                                Have you tried marjoram or cumin with beef?

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  I'm wary of added salt because I once ruined a batch after miscalculating just how salty the Better than Bouillon is. Even the reduced sodium kind I have.

                                  I don't like marjoram but now you've got me thinking of making a Mexican variation with cumin and beef, Maybe a little bit of canned chipotle pepper, skip the mushrooms... The mind races!

                                  Ah, I realize now you said added salt in terms of the anchovy and Maggi. Yes, I'm going to try those.

                                  1. re: Violatp

                                    Go easy on both anchovies and Maggi as they are quite salty, perhaps cut down on the salt in the rest of the dish but other than that I use them all the time for amazing flavor!

                                  2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    I second the marjoram, or even throw in a bouquet garni.

                                    Worcestershire or soy too.

                                    1. I've used porcini powder in beef dishes, it adds something good.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: BangorDin

                                        Oh, that's a good one, too. I've never used porcinis, but I've made powder out of dried Polish forest mushrooms - which I'd put up against porcinis any day! :-)

                                      2. As a follow up question, what is a good name for this sort of dish? It's not a stroganoff, but it's along that line. If I was to serve it to people (and I generally don't because it really does have an ungodly amount of cream and butter and I don't wish to be chastised!) what can I call it?

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: Violatp

                                          Sortoganoff? ;>D

                                          BTW, this brings to mind that the late Sam Fujisaka was a big proponent of chicken gizzard stroganoff, which he claimed people couldn't tell wasn't beef. He was right. I made it and loved it, but then I read how much cholesterol is in gizzards, and never made it again. You need to cook them slowly for a long time, to get them tender.

                                          1. re: greygarious

                                            Ha! Beef Sortanoff!

                                            And, oh, yes, gizzards are delicious! My mom used to cook first (yes, takes ages) then, when tender, dip in egg and bread crumbs and fry till crunchy. Delicious!

                                            And now that I think of it, a local Polish market sells gizzard goulash. Also very tasty!

                                          2. re: Violatp


                                            My mom's recipe for beef stroganoff uses tomato paste and red wine, so it has a pink tint - and that's the way I like it. I've substituted Guinness on occasion and that works too but tastes a bit different (obviously).

                                            1. All good suggestions. One other alternative would be to add some good quality paprika or smoked paprika, and you can call the dish paprikash.

                                              1. A tiny amount (1/4 tsp or less) of either Chinese five spice or French quatre epices, plus a similarly small (1/2 tsp or less) of cocoa powder subtly enhances beef dishes. If you are making only one small portion, decrease the amounts.

                                                1. This is an exact repeat of an earlier thread, in case you're interested.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                    "How to give beef stew more punch?"

                                                    150 replies with things you can do to increase the depth of flavor.


                                                  2. Surprised no one mentioned rosemary, or else I just missed it.

                                                    Along with rosemary, a bit of red wine, a splash of red wine vinegar. Horseradish wouldn't be a bad addition.

                                                    1. I agree with those who suggest anchovy, but I find that it's easier to have fish sauce around at all times, which is essentially a fermented anchovy juice. A teaspoon or so (I don't measure) per quart of wet matter will not taste fishy but definitely adds a "depth" note to soups, braises, etc.

                                                      I've never used porcini powder, but I do use dried procinis, and I never throw away the soaking liquid, but instead reduce it after straining and freeze it into ice cubes. A cube or two makes a very delicious addition to dishes such as yours, plus risottos, red sauces, etc. For economy, I mail order a pound bag or so: they keep a LONG time, and I love porcinis for pizzas, risotto, cacciatore, braised beef shanks, and more.

                                                      1. your answer, my dear, is anchovies (put in a couple of rinsed anchovies, and they melt without a trace of fishiness). try that, or a couple of shakes of fish sauce.

                                                        also, caramelize your onions more. mo' bettah!

                                                        1. I think that beef calls for a bit more caramelization of the onions and mushrooms than chicken or pork does. I'd try for more of a coppery color rather than golden, but be careful not to burn. I also think a bay leaf and a few allspice berries go wonderfully well with beef.

                                                          1. Some miso? Some Chinese fermented black beans in with the onions and garlic? A soaked chopped prune? A tad of fig jam?

                                                            1. Guinness

                                                              1. Try a tad of oyster sauce.

                                                                You could forget the dairy and serve this on a bed of some spicy green, like arugula.

                                                                1. I don't know if anyone has mentioned this yet -- but chocolate.

                                                                  1. How about orange zest. May sound weird but it can be good. For an example recipe, see http://www.houseofannie.com/beef-stew...

                                                                    1. Thanks so much for all the ideas, everyone! I have some grocery shopping to do. :-)

                                                                      1. I, many of my winter braised beef dishes I like to add chopped prunes. The almost disappear in cooking but add such a lush sweetness.

                                                                        I third (fourth?) the anchovies.

                                                                        Another option is to use porcini bouillon in place of or in addition to your Better than Bouillon. I use the Star brand and love the earthy flavor it adds to stews.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: foodieX2

                                                                          love, love, love dried fruit with braised meats.

                                                                        2. Orange zest. I have a slow cooker recipe that adds cognac, herbs de Provence and orange zest to the beef. Man that was surprisingly good.

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: LA Buckeye Fan

                                                                            oh yum. Would you post the recipe, please?

                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                              I'd be happy to.
                                                                              1 (3 pound) beef chuck roast
                                                                              2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
                                                                              Freshly ground black pepper
                                                                              3 tablespoons vegetable oil
                                                                              1/3 cup all-purpose flour
                                                                              2 cups chicken broth
                                                                              1 (14 1/2-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, with their juice
                                                                              1/4 cup cognac or brandy
                                                                              1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
                                                                              5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
                                                                              4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
                                                                              1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
                                                                              1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
                                                                              1/3 cup prepared sun-dried tomato tapenade
                                                                              1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
                                                                              1 packed teaspoon finely grated orange zest
                                                                              Hot buttered egg noodles, for serving
                                                                              Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper, to taste. Add the oil to the skillet and heat just until beginning to smoke. Brown the meat all over and sear the roast, turning as each side turns a deep mahogany, about 10 minutes. While the meat browns, put the flour into a medium bowl and whisk with about 1 1/2 cups of the chicken broth until smooth.

                                                                              Crush the tomatoes through your fingers into the slow cooker; stir in their juices, 3 tablespoons of the cognac, herbes de Provence, and the 2 teaspoons salt.

                                                                              Transfer the browned meat to the slow cooker. Add the remaining 1/2 cup chicken broth to the skillet; let it bubble for a minute and then stir with a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Pour over the meat, then scatter the garlic, carrots, fennel, and onion over and around the meat. Pour the flour mixture over. Cover the cooker, set it on HIGH, and cook for 4 hours. Set the cooker on LOW and cook until the meat is very tender, up to 2 hours more (for a total of 6 hours). Transfer the meat to a cutting board. Skim any excess fat off the top of the sauce in the cooker.

                                                                              To finish the sauce: Stir the remaining 1 tablespoon cognac, the tomato tapenade, parsley, and orange zest into the vegetables and sauce in the slow cooker. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Slice the meat and lay the slices down the center of a serving platter. Arrange the vegetables around the meat and spoon some sauce over the top. Serve with hot buttered egg noodles. Pass the remaining sauce.

                                                                              1. re: LA Buckeye Fan

                                                                                thanks, this looks really delicious...and I just happen to have a chuck roast and bulb of fennel sitting in the fridge.

                                                                                1. re: LA Buckeye Fan

                                                                                  took me a while (crazy couple of weeks) but I made this yesterday -- I didn't thicken the broth, but this is a really nice twist on pot roast -- lighter in taste and texture.

                                                                                  Will show up in the rotation -- thanks!

                                                                            2. Why not skip the cream and perhaps try a bordelaise sauce?


                                                                              Or skip the veggies and just melt some blue cheese into some heavy cream, perhaps throw some chives in there too.

                                                                              Maybe some dry vermouth would be interesting in the sauce you are currently making.

                                                                              1. Hot sauce. Adds some acid, but also a little bit of interest without necessarily being spicy (depending on what hot sauce you use.)

                                                                                1. Update - I have made it again recently, and decided to try the anchovy/Magi first. It definitely worked but I didn't add quite enough. I was being conservative, though, so know how much more to add next time (based on my meat quantity)

                                                                                  But it did have that certain something!