Whether you buy a chuck roast to cut up for a pot of stew or you pick up one of those convenient packages of pre-cut stew meat, these budget cuts of beef are hard-working muscles known for being tough. But with the right amount of TLC and a few smart tips, you can turn inexpensive stew meat into a richly flavored meal with a surprisingly tender bite.
3 Easy Ways to Totally Transform Stew Meat
Pound for pound, stew meat is a lot cheaper than pricy cuts, like steaks and short ribs. This is because they take a little more effort on the part of the home cook to turn them into something tasty. But with a little know-how, accomplishing this feat is not hard at all.
1. Sear the meat well.
Searing meat takes a long time and it's tempting to skip it. Don't. Searing the meat until it develops a dark brown crust on the bottoms and a sticky "fond" starts to glaze over the bottom of the pan are both key to creating the kind of rich, caramelized flavors that make stews irresistibly good.
2. Cook it slow and steady.
Whether you're cooking on the stovetop, in the oven, or in a slow-cooker, it's important to let the meat cook incredibly slowly at a bare simmer over the course of several hours. This gives collagens in the tough muscle tissue time to melt and make the meat tender. Try tasting a bite after an hour, two hours, and three hours — you'll see how the meat goes from chewy to pretty good to fall-apart tender.
3. Wait to add acid.
In a marinade, an acid can help a tough cut become tender, but in a slow-cooking stew, too much of an acidic ingredient can actually make the meat take longer to become tender. I picked up this tip from a chef a few years back and have found my stews and braises to be much improved ever since. I find that some wine to deglaze is fine, but I wait to add things like tomatoes until closer to the end of cooking.
Totally Comforting Beef Stew Recipes
Your turn! Do you have any other tips to add for making stew meat taste delicious?