There’s nothing quite as comforting as coming in from the cold and warming yourself with a steamy bowl of hearty beef stew. Its rich gravy and tender veggies are second only to mouthwatering chunks of beef that have been simmering for hours, marrying the marvel of flavors and textures.
Stews are one of those dishes that never create a whirlwind of excitement; there’s really nothing glamorous about them. Nonetheless, they continue to be one of winter’s most popular meals because there’s nothing that satisfies quite as much.
And when the family gathers on a chilly winter’s night, stew is an ideal meal. There’s no last-minute prep, and one recipe feeds the crowd.
They come in various concoctions. Not all contain beef. Some are made with chicken. Others have more of an African angle, adding okra and even peanuts to the mix. But tradition rules in most households, including mine.
I make beef stew as soon as the thermometer plunges, using a recipe that’s a little different. Rather than simmering the stew in a Dutch oven on the stovetop, my recipe calls for putting it in the oven on a low temperature, then baking it for hours, filling the house with wonderful smells. Tapioca, added as a thickener, results in a delicious gravy. A cup of red wine boosts the flavor.
Add whatever vegetables you like. My kids didn’t like cooked carrots so much, so when they were young, I’d double up on the onions and potatoes. Now I sometimes add sweet potatoes for color and extra vitamins.
The recipe originally came from “The Original Tennessee Homecoming Cookbook,” which came out in 1985 when then-Gov. Lamar Alexander launched a statewide campaign to celebrate the state’s history, including our culinary history, The cookbook is filled with recipes from cooks across the state, including Lorraine Whitler of Nashville, who contributed her Five-Hour Beef Stew to the mix. Like many recipes that cooks have had for years, I have tweaked this one with the addition of red wine. If you don’t have any on hand, try adding some beer or cola for a different flavor. I’ve also made it with leftover lamb and, if I have any, lamb gravy. It’s surprising how forgiving beef stew can be.
Five-Hour Beef Stew
1 1/2 pounds chuck roast, cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup celery, chunked
4 carrots, chunked
2-3 medium potatoes, chunked
1 onion, sliced or large dice
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 large can tomatoes
1 cup red wine, optional
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
4-5 tablespoons minute tapioca
2-3 generous splashes Worcestershire sauce
Do not brown the meat. Combine all ingredients in large baking dish with a tight-fitting lid or cover securely with foil. Bake in a 250-degree oven for 5-6 hours. Do not hurry this stew. The slow oven is the key to success.