Stew meat is tough, inexpensive meat, but if you cook it well, you can easily turn it into a four-star meal. Tender stew meat takes patience and technique, but it's well worth the time and effort. Start your stew early in the day to give it time to grow tasty and tender. The aroma will make your house fragrant and welcoming, and the heat from the cooking process will make your space extra warm during the cold winter months when stew is most enticing.
Tender Stew Meat Tips
Use chuck roast for a beef stew and cook it for at least three hours until the tender stew meat breaks apart easily with a fork. There's more than one way to soften up a tough cut of chuck roast, and it isn't a bad idea to use more than one of the following techniques together.
Searing Your Meat
Giving your meat an initial high heat cook before adding the stew ingredients helps to seal in the moisture, which will contribute to achieving tender stew meat. Use a heat-tolerant oil such as canola or grape seed (not olive oil), heat it in your stew pot on a reasonably high flame until it's hot but not smoking and then cook your stew meat for a few minutes on both sides until it browns on the outside.
For best results, brown a big hunk of meat and then cut it up after you sear it rather than trying to sear a pan full of small pieces, which will have too much surface area and will release too much liquid.
Marinating Your Meat
Marinating your meat ahead of time serves the dual function of making it more tasty and also more tender, especially if you include an acidic ingredient such as lemon juice or vinegar. You can marinate your meat for an hour or two or – better yet – overnight. The longer you marinate it, the more flavorful it will be. Make sure to drain off as much liquid as possible before starting the searing process.
Pounding Your Meat
A meat mallet (or even a hammer if it's clean) can help to break down some of the muscle fibers that make stew meat tough. Pound your chuck roast a few times but avoid hitting it so much that it becomes a mushy pulp.
Timing Your Meat
Whatever other techniques you use, it's an inescapable fact that tender stew meat takes time. Once you add the liquid, you may need to cook your meat as long as three or four hours on low heat in a thick pot or a Dutch oven with a lid. Check it often after the first three hours and give it enough time to break apart easily with a fork. It will be worth the wait.
Stew Meat Recipes
Because beef stew is a tasty way to use cheap cuts of meat, there are a wealth of different recipes from all over the world. The Jewish Sabbath dish cholent uses stew meat along with beans and sturdy root vegetables. Mexican beef stews use red and green chiles to create layers of flavor, and the French beef bourguignon uses red wine and herbs for seasoning. You can also create your own beef stew recipe using whatever vegetables and herbs you have on hand but make sure to cook your stew meat until it's nice and tender.
Stew Meat Marinade Ideas
You can find or create a variety of stew meat marinade ideas to match the many available stew meat recipe options. For a Mexican beef stew, marinate your meat with chiles and lime. For a Greek dish, use olive oil and lemon, and for a Southern-style dish, include Worcestershire sauce in your beef stew marinade. Alternately, create your own special marinade based on whatever flavors you enjoy most.
Devra Gartenstein is a self-taught professional cook who has authored two cookbooks: "The Accidental Vegan", and "Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes". She founded Patty Pan Cooperative, Seattle's oldest farmers market concession, and teaches regular cooking classes.