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Cuisine Guide

What makes a stew

29 November 2023

Warming, filling and perfect for chilly days, stews are staple meals across many different cultures and cuisines.

Put a hearty stew on your menu this winter

Warming, filling and perfect for chilly days, stews are staple meals across many different cultures and cuisines, and for good reason. From their versatility and adaptability, to their ability to transform humble ingredients into flavour-packed masterpieces, they’re a firm favourite amongst home cooks and experienced chefs alike. 

The concept of a stew is simple, using a mix of meat such as beef, chicken, lamb or goat, vegetables, grains and a flavourful broth to make the perfect winter warmer. If you’re wondering what to put in your stew, the answer is: whatever you like. The only thing that makes it better is a good chunk of bread or some pillowy stew dumplings to top it off.

How to cook stew

Creating a tasty stew at home is a straightforward process that covers a few basic steps, regardless of what ingredients you love to use best:

  1. Browning your meat – Whatever cut and flavour you use, start by giving the meat a generous seasoning and brown the pieces in a pan. This adds depth of flavour and colour. 
  2. Sauté aromatics – Bonus points for using the same pan as your browned-off meat, this is where your aromatics like onions, garlic, carrots and celery are softened. 
  3. Add the rest of your veggies – If you’re adding vegetables like green beans, chickpeas, potatoes, and mushrooms, they’ll join the mix after your aromatics are soft and smelling fragrant.
  4. Deglaze with broth – You’ve worked on flavours, so now’s time to bring it all together with your liquids. Whether you’re adding broth, wine or something else entirely, add enough to cover your ingredients, scraping up all the good stuff on the bottom.Give it time – Add your meat back to the pot, cover and simmer (either on the stove or in the oven) for a couple of hours until the vegetables are cooked through and the meat is tender.

How to thicken stew

Getting the perfect consistency is crucial for a moreish and great-looking dish. There are a few different ways to thicken a stew, each with its own effect and flavour profile.

Flour dredge – Dredge the meat pieces in flour before browning to create a natural thickening agent. This method results in a slightly opaque stew with a subtle nutty flavour.

Cornstarch slurry – For a quicker thickening solution, mix cornstarch with cold water to form a slurry. Gradually whisk the slurry into the simmering stew until the desired consistency is reached.

Make a roux – A roux is a mixture of cooked butter and flour. This adds depth of flavour and a rich, velvety texture. Cook the roux until it reaches a desired colour, then gradually whisk it into the stew.


How to make stew in a slow cooker

For busy cooks who want to enjoy the benefits of a heart stew without the hands-on effort, slow cookers are lifesavers. Just brown off your meat and cook down your aromatics and vegetables as mentioned before. Then transfer everything over to your slow cooker. Add enough broth to cover the ingredients and off you go. 

Set the slow cooker to low and leave for anywhere from six to eight hours. By then you should be welcomed with tender meat and can thicken your stew if desired.

Making stew dumplings

Stew dumplings, those fluffy pockets of dough nestled atop a savoury stew, add a delightful dimension of texture and flavour. Here are a few popular types of stew dumplings:

Suet dumplings – Made with suet, flour, and baking powder, these dumplings are light and airy, providing a contrast to the rich stew.

Potato dumplings – Grated potatoes, flour, and eggs come together to form these dense and flavorful dumplings, adding a hearty element to the stew.

Yeast dough dumplings – Yeast dough, rolled out and cut into squares or strips, yields soft and chewy dumplings that soak up the stew’s flavours.

Can you freeze stew? 

Great news for meal preppers and budget-conscious cooks, you can freeze stew for up to three months. Just be sure to portion it out and cool completely before freezing.

When you’re ready to tuck in again, let it defrost in full and reheat until piping hot all the way through.


Why rice is the magic ingredient for stew

Rice might seem like an unlikely hero in the world of stews, but trust us, this humble grain will make your stews sing for a few magical reasons:

Texture enhancer: Rice adds a delightful contrast of textures to stews, balancing the richness of the broth with its soft, chewy bite. It acts as a textural anchor, preventing the stew from becoming too smooth or too chunky.

Flavour absorber: Rice is an excellent flavour absorber, soaking up the richness of your stew’s ingredients. It transforms the broth, adding depth and complexity to every spoonful.

Thickener and binder: Rice has a remarkable ability to thicken stews without resorting to heavy creams or starches. It gently thickens the broth, creating a rich and hearty stew that’s perfect for chilly evenings.

Gluten-free option: For those with gluten sensitivities, rice is a gluten-free alternative that doesn’t compromise on flavour or texture. It seamlessly integrates into stews, providing a nourishing and satisfying meal without any gluten-related worries.