Cold temps make me want to slow cook a big piece of meat, like this bison from North Bridger Bison. There’s really not much to making a stew, but there are a few essential steps for making one that tastes really great—developing a nice “browning”/crust on the meat, and, in my opinion, using wine for the braising liquid (instead of stock). In the south of France they call stews like this daubes, a term derived from the cooking vessel, daubière. I thought of calling this a “daube”, but really, we’re just talking about stew, so even though I don’t like the word, here you go—how I go about cooking stew.
There is no perfect stew and I encourage you to start here and then play with it each and every time you make one. I’ve been inspired by and adapted my method from Dorie Greenspan’s “My Go-To Beef Daube” in Around My French Table and Ruth Reichl’s “Beef, Wine, and Onion Stew” in My Kitchen Year. (While I have you, if you want to learn how to be more relaxed in the kitchen, read My Kitchen Year. The way RR puts down recipes is like soaking in a tub of bubbles at the end of a long day.)
Beef Stew with Wine and Shallots (can be made with Bison or Elk)
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's "My Go-To Beef Daube" in Around My French Table
- 3 pound beef chuck roast (or shoulder cut bison or elk)
- 2 ounces pancetta or bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces (or smaller dice if that's how the pancetta comes) optional
- 1-2 tbsp olive oil or high-oleic safflower oil
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced pole-to-pole
- 6 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced pole-to-pole
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed with edge of knife optional
- 1 tbsp tomato paste optional
- ¼ cup Cognac or brandy optional
- 1 bottle (750 ml) decent red wine
- 2 carrots, peeled and quartered
- 2 parsnips or turnips, peeled and quartered optional
- 1 stalk celery, quartered optional
bouquet garni—wrap in a piece of cheesecloth and tie with kitchen twine:
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 4 sprigs parsley
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 1 bay leaf
To enrich the sauce for elk or bison, 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Dry the roast with paper towels and cut into 2-3 inch pieces, trimming away excess fat and connective tissue as you go (without getting obsessed about it).
Heat Dutch oven (or any 4-6 quart oven-safe pot with lid) over medium heat and add the pancetta or bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it browns, then lift out to a plate.
Add 1 tablespoon oil to the rendered fat and brown the meat pieces on all sides. Work in batches so you don't crowd the pan, which steams the meat instead of developing a flavorful crust. When done, transfer to the plate with the bacon/pancetta. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Pour off the oil from browning the meat and add the remaining tablespoon of fresh oil and warm over medium heat. Add the onion, shallots, garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened, 5-10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir to cook a couple minutes. Add the Cognac/brandy, turn up the heat, and give things a good simmer while scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula (deglaze); simmer a minute then add the carrots, parsnips, celery, reserved pancetta/bacon/meat pieces, along with any accumulated juices on the plate, and stir.
Add the wine and bouquet garni. Give everything a good stir and bring to boil. Put the lid on the pot and set it in the oven. At 1 hour, take a peek to assess the liquid level (add water if it looks overly reduced, which is unlikely), give a stir, then put the lid back on and continue cooking for 90 more minutes (for a total of 2 ½ hours).
When cooking is complete, remove and discard the bouquet garni, and if you wish, the carrots and celery (as they have given about as much as they can give). Taste the sauce and if you wish, you can remove the meat and reduce the sauce by boiling for a few minutes. When I cook with elk or bison, I usually enrich the sauce with a couple tablespoons of butter—whisk it into the sauce 1 tablespoon at a time as it simmers.
Recipe Notes / Tips
- I like to serve with mashed potatoes, mashed celery root, or polenta and a loaf of bread with a nice crust (and a robust red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah).
- All stews are better with a little time on them, so make this ahead and refrigerate for a day or two. This also makes it easier to remove the fat that rises to the top.
- While it may be tempting to use a slow cooker, you will never get the varied textures of the meat that you get with an oven braise. So, if you have the time to monitor the oven, this is my preferred method.
- Some recipes add flour to thicken the sauce. The best place to do this is to dredge the meat pieces in flour just before you brown them—a couple tablespoons will do it. This has the advantage of making a thicker sauce, but when you use a good wine and onions and enough cooking time, I find this step (and ingredient) unnecessary.
- If you don't want to use wine and Cognac, follow this recipe with a high quality beef stock and it will be great. Aim for 4-5 cups of liquid.
- The difference between a stew like this and Beef Bourguignon is the extra garniture that you add at the end...separately cooked pearl onions (boil them in water for 3 minutes then trim off the root end and pinch out; sauté in butter) and separately cooked mushrooms (sauté in butter). Bon appétit!