Some meat cuts need a long time of moist cooking in order to get tender.
You can boil them (see Part 1 - Soups) or you can use less water by braising (aka pot roast) or stewing.
Braising and stewing are nearly the same thing:
- Braising is for larger cuts of meat, e.g. the chuck roast in Pic1 if I cooked it whole.
You use less water than half the height of the meat, get a small amount of very dark sauce.
- Stewing is for smaller, nearly bite-sized pieces.
You use more water to cover nearly all the meat. You get a lot of lighter-colored sauce.
Vegetables can be added to both stew and pot roast, but this is not required. It is a stew or pot roast either way, with and without vegetables.
Stewing and braising are done in the same way, no matter much what meat you use:
- Cut the meat into nearly bite-size pieces for stew.
Keep it larger for pot roast. (a parted rabbit is pot roast)
- Brown the meat.
- Add liquid = less for pot roast, nearly covered for stew.
- Bring to a boil.
- Reduce to low heat and simmer until tender.
Pic1: a chuck roast is being cut for stew
Pic2: browning the meat is very important
Chuck roast is my preferred stew meat. Make sure you get some fat with the stew meat.
- Brisket and round may do too, but do make sure there are some nice bars of fat visible.
Aggressively trimmed brisket and round roasts are too lean and may taste rather bland. I would add extra fat if I had to use those.
- Many spices dissolve better in fat than in water.
The added fat adds flavor on its own already, but it also magnifies the flavor of many spices.
Get some fat to go with your stew. It will taste so much better.
Buying stew meat for your stew may not be the best idea.
Those are often bits and pieces that the butcher trimmed from different parts of the animal that may require different stewing times.
- When cooking those together, some pieces might already be tender while others would still be chewy.
- When cooking further until the chewy pieces are done, the tender pieces might be overcooked.
I find it better to buy a bigger cut and cut it at home myself. At least then I know that all of the stew will be done at the same time. I usually cut stew meat to 1" x 1" x 2" size or slightly smaller. Make sure to cut the pieces about the same shape and size, that everything will cook evenly.
Browning the meat (Pic2) is a very important part of the stewing process.
- This adds both color and flavor to the stew. As long as you’re careful not to burn the meat, don’t be afraid of going very dark.
- Brown the meat in small batches over high heat. If you try to brown too much meat at once, it will release too much liquid and will cook without browning.
A stew always tastes better when it has been sitting overnight.
- If you have time, prepare the stew the previous day without the vegetables, refrigerate overnight and reheat shortly before serving.
A few stews:
Pic2-4: beef chuck stew
A few pot roasts:
Pic5-7: chuck pot roasts