Christmas Eve Beef Stew


One of the things I miss most about my Gramma is being in the kitchen with her. She always had the staples she'd make frequently, and I was always baking one thing or another, but every now and then we'd get an itch to really put ourselves to work with a new recipe (probably after watching some PBS cooking show together for two hours.) Each of us really enjoyed the challenge of making something completely from scratch so we knew exactly what went into it and could experiment with how flavors melded together. This was one of our favorite recipes and it quickly became our Christmas Eve tradition. This year I was excited to finally have it in me to make it again.

I know it's long and obviously if you're here, you probably know me and that I can be unnecessarily verbose sometimes, but I encourage you to read through first to make sure you've got the time, tools, and ingredients to make it for yourself. Also, almost everything we made together was hardly measured so most of this is an approximation - feel free to add or omit and make whatever you've got work to your advantage. It's worth it! 


TIME: 2 hours active, plus 4 – 24 hours passive (optional)
SERVES: 2 generously, or add sides for up to 4

· cheesecloth or muslin
· baker's twine or any dye-free string
· dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot
· skillet (cast iron preferred)
· sieve
· large spoon
· whisk

· 4 cups (32oz) organic beef broth, divided three times:
  (1½ cups, 2½ cups minus 2 tablespoons, 2 tablespoons)
· 1 cup dry / slightly acidic red wine (I like malbec)
· 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
· 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided in half
· 4 tablespoon flour, divided in half
· 1 tablespoon dried thyme
· 6 sprigs fresh parsley
· 3 whole cloves
· 1 bay leaf
· 6 or 7 whole peppercorns, optional
· 1 small coarsely chopped white onion (about ¾ – 1 cup)
· 4 or 5 or 10 finely diced garlic cloves (up to you!)
· 1½ish cups chopped carrots
· 1½ish cups frozen peas
· 1 pound cubed stew beef (or cut up your own steak)
· salt + pep

And BECAUSE IT'S CHRISTMAS, here are some visual aids to walk you through most steps including some sizzling sounds and James Brown:

Gather your stuff! I like to pre-measure and have everything ready to go, especially since some of these steps go by quickly. Plus I have about an inch of counter space so I'd rather have a few extra dishes than open bottles and containers all over the place.

Make your herb bundle with your parsley, cloves, bay leaf, peppercorns, cheesecloth / muslin, and string. You're really just going to make everything cozy and tie it on up. Be careful here because sometimes a bay leaf will slice right on through cheesecloth and open the entire thing; to avoid this, you can fold up the ends. Season your beef with salt and pepper on all sides.

Heat the first half of olive oil in your dutch oven on high heat. Once oil is hot (toss a bit of onion in to see if it sizzles), add onions and garlic and stir for the next five minutes of your life. We want to toast the garlic in the oil, not fry it, so it needs to keep moving!

When your onions have started sweating through, add your meat and stir well. We're only browning the meat here, since it will continue to cook through the last step. 

When your beef is browned, add in 1½ cups broth, wine, balsamic vinegar, and your herb bundle. Let this all come to a boil, and give it a stir every now and then. 

Now we're gonna make a slurry! A slurry is a way to thicken your broth mixture and is similar to a roux, only in a slurry you integrate a thickening agent (flour, cornstarch) into a liquid (broth, water.) In a roux, you'd integrate a thickening agent into a fat (melted butter, oil.) Anyway, whisk first half of flour into 2 tablespoons broth until it's nice and blended. Toss that into your pot, stir it up, and let it continue to boil for about 5 minutes.

If you've got the time, remove from heat once the pot comes to a boil (seems counterintuitive, but the boiling helps tenderize and cook the meat) and let come to room temperature. Then make room for your pot in the fridge and let it hang out for at least 4 hours, up to 24 hours – the acid in the vinegar is going to harmonize with the meat and herbs and make everything in there so happy and delicious. Definitely not a requirement, but letting it rest and marinate makes your eyes roll back in your head a little farther once you've tasted the finished product. 

Using a sieve, separate the onions / garlic / beef from the liquid, but keep the herb bundle in the liquid. (Begin to heat the liquid in your dutch oven over medium heat again if you've let it to rest in the fridge.) Heat the other half of olive oil in a skillet and add in the onion / garlic / beef. Stir! This is gonna sear the hell out of that meat and caramelize the onions. There's really no method to how seared / caramelized you go here – cook's choice. Once you're done, set aside onion / garlic / beef and turn off heat on the skillet. Whatever you do, do not wash that thing! We'll deglaze that guy in a bit.

We're going to reduce the liquid in the pot to a gravy now. There's no trick here except to keep an eye on it – reducing is just letting the water evaporate from the contents so that it becomes thick and concentrated and delicious. This can take about 30 minutes depending on your heat levels and the heat retention in your pot. Stir through this process as often as possible – you'll know it's done when you can kind of 'part' the gravy at the bottom of the pot and it drips slowly down your spoon. Turn the heat to low to keep it from reducing too much. 

Remove and discard herb bundle from liquid and get ready for DEGLAZING! This is my favorite part because it makes me feel resourceful and brilliant. While your skillet is still hot (cast iron is preferred here because we'll need it to retain heat in order to remove all of the fond, which is what the stuck-on bits are called) add in the thyme, remaining flour, remaining beef broth (if too much, it's fine to do this in shifts.) Whisk it all up, making sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the skillet in order to get the fond incorporated to the new liquid. Pour that into your freshly reduced gravy and bring to a boil. Don't you feel resourceful and brilliant?

When liquid boils, add your carrots, turn heat to medium, cover partially and cook just until the carrots are tender. You'll want to stir this as well, because carrots are heavy and have a tendency to sink to the bottom and get themselves stuck.

Once carrots are tender, add your frozen peas (a little freezer burn never hurt anyone) and reintroduce your seared, caramelized, beautiful onion / garlic / beef back into the pot. We're gonna let this reduce ONE MORE TIME because concentrated flavors, man, are the best. Again – you can test when its ready by scraping your spoon along the bottom of the pot and seeing if the gravy parts. This is also cook's choice, though – if it gets too thick, add a little water. Too thin, keep reducing. You get it. 

If you've forgotten to taste along the way like I often do, now's the time to make any adjustments – you'll likely need to add salt and pepper, but you can also try smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, butter, vinegar, worcestershire sauce, whatever you think makes this better. Once I tried a tablespoon of dijon mustard and I was pleasantly surprised. 

That's it! Your house probably smells absolutely amazing. Serve it up with some nice crusty bread, or if you want to extend the servings, you can serve it over rice, roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes, biscuits, egg noodles – I don't know man, your carbs your choice. This will keep in the fridge for a few days and in the freezer for about a month so that's plenty of notice to invite me over.


Also, because of who I am as a person, I've yet to find a spoon rest I love after almost 10 months of having my own kitchen. Why am I like this?

vanessa hernandez