I’ve been making beef stew for years and have experimented making it in a variety of ways. I’ve tried low and slow on the stovetop, low and slow in the oven using enameled cast iron and low and slow in the slow cooker. After many years and many iterations I’ve finally decided on the process and the recipe. And the winner is (drum roll) slow cooker red wine beef stew.
The keys to success in this recipe, and virtually any recipe in a slow cooker, is having a good slow cooker (and understanding its temperature controls), knowing the appropriate cooking time and making sure that the ingredients can withstand the cooking process.
Where this recipe is concerned, I have finally figured out how to make it flavorful and tender but not mushy. So here is my rating and lessons learned:
Rating: A+++++ Believe me, those pluses have only been earned over time. I’ve had a variety of failures over the years, namely tough meat, mushy vegetables and bland flavor. Hopefully my recipe and lessons learned will help you avoid years of trial and error in making easy and delicious beef stew in your slow cooker.
Lesson Learned 1: To brown or not to brown the meat and veggies before putting them in the slow cooker, that is the question. I have done them both ways. I’ve come to the conclusion that pre-browning is not necessary for this recipe to be eye as well as palate appealing (as seen in the final picture below). So save some time and skip that part.
Lesson Learned 2: Cutting the vegetables and potatoes to the appropriate size is important. Since you will cook this for 8 hours you need to cut the vegetables and potatoes in big chunks. I used one very large sweet onion cut in half and then into thirds separating the layers, the thickest carrots I could find, cutting them into two inch logs, and new red potatoes about two inches in diameter cut in half. If you’re not sure, err on cutting the pieces larger instead of smaller. All of these ingredients cut to large sizes will hold up nicely to this cooking process.
Lesson Learned 3: Buy a tough cut of meat like a chuck or eye of round roast and cut it into pieces yourself. If you purchase pre-cut “beef stew” meat, the pieces can vary in size and result in some being tough after cooking while others mushy. By cutting the meat yourself you save money and get evenly sized pieces. I usually cut the meat into 2 inch cubes. I find that to be the best for the 8 hour cooking process.
Lesson Learned 4: Use red wine to flavor the cooking sauce. Not only will you have delightful smells in your house all day long but it goes a long way in adding flavor to the sauce. I used two cans of golden mushroom soup as the base and red wine is a perfect compliment to that. I normally fill one of the empty cans to the top with merlot and mix it with the undiluted soup. A little more or less won’t matter and it’s a great opportunity to take a sip yourself. After all, it’s five o’clock somewhere, right?
Lesson Learned 5: Here’s a great tip to use in all your slow cooker sauces. A perfect ingredient for thickening sauces in slow cookers is instant tapioca. I use two heaping tablespoons of it in the mixture and it yields a sauce that has body to it. This is a great trick to keep in your back pocket.
Lesson Learned 6: Not all vegetables are created equal. I used to think that I needed to put all the ingredients into the slow cooker at the beginning, and I happen to like mushrooms and peas in my beef stew. Well, if you add those at the beginning I guarantee you they will be mush by the end of 8 hours. Another trick I learned was to add these two ingredients 1/2 hour before the end of the cooking process. That way they will cook to just the right consistency.
Lesson Learned 7: This lesson I just learned when making the recipe the other day. I had some asparagus spears in my refrigerator that I needed to use. I also threw them in with the mushrooms and the peas and they turned out perfectly, crisp tender. So if you have any of the more delicate veggies that you want to use, just pop them in during the last half hour and they will be perfect. I also threw in some fresh thyme at the end and it stood up well.
I’ve gotten this recipe to the point that it is my favorite beef stew recipe and it could not be easier to make. The bulk of the time is in the prep and I don’t know about you but there is something very comforting to me about slicing, dicing, mincing and chopping. Serve this in a crock style bowl with some garlic bread and a salad and you have one of the all time great comfort food meals.
Slow Cooker Red Wine Beef Stew
1 4 lb. chuck roast
8 large carrots
8 large baby red potatoes (2 inches in diameter)
1 large sweet onion
8 ounces baby portobella mushrooms
2 cans golden mushroom soup
1 cup frozen petite sweet peas
Additional vegetables as desired (cooking times may vary see below)
2 TBS of worcestershire sauce
1 cup dry red wine, preferably merlot
2 TBS. instant tapioca, heaping
2 TBS dried thyme
2 TBS fresh thyme
Salt and Pepper
Cut the roast into 2 inch square cubes, set aside. Peel and cut the onion in half and cut the halves into thirds. Separate the layers and put into the slow cooker. Peel carrots and cut into 2 inch lengths, place into slow cooker. Wash the potatoes and cut them into halves, place in slow cooker. Season this layer with salt, pepper and dried thyme.
Place meat on top of the vegetables. Season with salt, pepper and thyme.
Mix together two cans of golden mushroom soup, add 1 can (about one cup more or less, no need to be exact) of merlot and mix until combined and smooth. Add 1 TBS of dried thyme, the worcestershire sauce and tapioca. Mix until combined. Pour over the meat and vegetables making sure they are completely covered. Cover and set the slow cooker on low for 8 hours.
Slice the mushrooms into 1/2 inch thick slices. Remove the leaves from the fresh thyme and chop. (For this recipe I used some asparagus I had in the refrigerator. I simply chopped off the woody stems and added them with all of these ingredients). Remove the cover from the slow cooker and add the peas, mushrooms, (asparagus), and fresh thyme. Stir until combined. Cook for an additional half hour.
Serve in a crock style bowl with a green salad and garlic bread.