What’s the difference between a soup and a stew?
Well, not much, really. Both soups and a stew can be composed of the exact same ingredients, with just the amount of liquid used being the sole difference.
With regards to soup, the ingredients are fully immersed in a broth, allowing less dense ingredients to float to the top. Stews, however, contain far less liquid and are typically a much heartier meal. Through the winter months, I prepare my fair share of both soups and stews, almost always done in a slow cooker for convenience.
A few weeks ago, I grabbed almost two pounds of beef stew meat from the Pork Palace, a family ranch located just south of Buellton off Highway 101. I kept the meat in the freezer, and this weekend I finally pulled it out, thawed the package and prepped my ingredients for a flavorful beef stew.
I have been preparing beef stews for many years, and they are never quite the same. What goes in varies primarily depending on what I have on hand in the kitchen.
To build a rich flavor profile, I usually start with onion or some other members of the allium family, which includes garlic, leeks and shallots, as well as carrots and celery.
Sometimes I prepare my vegetables in large chunks, other times more carefully diced. I also like to incorporate some sort of starchy vegetable, this time being a white flesh sweet potato called O’Henry.
I love to add fresh peppers too, if available. You can still make a delicious stew if you are missing some of these ingredients or add others if desired.
Cauliflower, kale, mushrooms and parsley are some that didn’t quite make the cut this time but have been used in many of my previous stews.
2 pounds beef stew meat, about 1-inch pieces
¼ cup flour
2 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
5 celery ribs, diced
2-3 large carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
2-3 medium potatoes (I use a white flesh sweet potato), peeled and cut into large pieces (Yukon gold would also be a good option)
1 large leek, cut into small rounds, float in cold water to remove sediment
1 head garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1-2 bay leaves or sprigs of fresh thyme
2-3 peppers (I use a combination of poblano and green bell peppers.)
In a large sauté pan, turn the burner to high heat and brown meat on both sides in olive oil, about 6-7 minutes. Then place the meat in a mixing bowl and toss with flour, which will help thicken the stew.
Place the meat in a slow cooker and add all other remaining ingredients. Add water until the liquid level is almost at the top, but the ingredients are not fully submerged. Stir a few times, cover and cook at the high setting for about 4 hours or the low setting for about 7 hours.
Once the ingredients have reached the desired tenderness, gently stir before serving. I usually add a little hot sauce and some shredded cabbage to my bowl.
Yield: Serves 8.