Growing up, beef stew was a staple in my mom's cooking. I knew we were having it for dinner the moment I walked in the door. It's one of those dishes that fills the house up with warm, comforting flavors. Often, she'd cook it in her slow cooker - allowing it to be a practical dish even on the busiest of weeknights. But it's also perfect for weekend cooking or entertaining. And even if it's just yourself you're cooking for, you'll get several dinners out of the stew, making it worthwhile at any time.
Chuck roast, from the shoulder of the cow, is an ideal cut for stew. It's economical and full of connective tissue that will break down during a slow cook and make the pieces of meat super tender. It's just matter of cooking until the meat reaches that point of tenderness.
Start with a 2-3 pound piece of chuck. Trim the outer layer of fat then cut into one inch cubes.
Sear (brown) the meat in a large dutch oven or pot by heating a small amount of canola oil in the bottom of the pan over medium-high heat. For a good sear you will have to do a couple of batches. Just do one layer of meat at a time and be sure not to crowd the pan. Brown 2-3 minutes per side. You're just looking to brown the meat, not cook it through at this point. When done, remove the meat from the pot.
Add in another small splash of oil then the vegetables. Use 3 cups of your choice of sliced veggies. Onions and carrots are the standard. I add in potatoes and mushrooms if I have them, or roots like turnips and rutabaga. Your call. Just cook until browned and almost tender. Season with minced garlic, dried thyme, rosemary and a bay leaf.
When done, return the meat to the pan. Now it's time to deglaze the pot. That means scraping up the brown bits that have formed on the bottom of the pot with liquid. Red or white wine, cider or beer add some great flavor. But if you just have broth or even water - that will do the job. Just add the liquid in and gently scrape the pot with a wooden spoon.
Add in the tomatoes, broth and extra liquid, if needed, to make sure everything is covered.
Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cover. Let the stew stew for about an hour before checking the tenderness of the meat. If still chewy, continue cooking, checking every 15 minutes until ready.
If the stew looks too thin you can uncover the pot in the last 1/2 hour or so of cooking to let some of the liquid evaporate. Or, if you'd like to thicken it up even more, remove a cup of liquid from the pot and whisk in two tablespoons flour. When completely blended, stir back into the pot and cook another few minutes.
If making in the slow cooker: Follow steps 1-4 as written, then transfer everything to the slow cooker. Cook on low 4-6 hours.