I know the saying is, “As easy as pie,” but I've never found pie to be that simple. Especially if you make the crust from scratch, a skill I’m still trying to master.
On the other hand, stew is so easy to put together, no recipe is required. Just look in your pantry, freezer and fridge. I bet all of the ingredients are there for a yummy stew, be it chicken or beef.
So, you want to make a stew but are unsure where to start? Take a moment and close your eyes. Imagine the stew you desire. How does it taste? What vegetables do you see floating in the broth? What flavors do you taste? Now, go!
It's hard to mess up stew—or soup, for that matter—because the flavors can be adjusted along the way so the finished dish tastes the way you like. Just remember the rule of “less is more.” Start with small amounts of salt, pepper, herbs, spices, etc. You can always add more if needed, but it is difficult to fix if you use too much.
The one skill required for stew making is knowing how to thicken the broth, which is done a short while before serving. I make a slurry of water and flour, shaken in a jar. (Two to three parts water to one part flour—it should be a thick liquid.) Then I pour part of the mixture into the stew, let it come to a simmer to see if it thickens enough, and add more if necessary.
For this beef stew, I threw everything into my slow cooker—one-inch chunks of chuck roast, carrots, potatoes, celery, and onion. (I considered adding tomatoes, peas or green beans, but decided not to this time.) I poured in some low-sodium beef broth and, thinking of Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon, added half a glass of red wine. For seasoning, I used dried thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper. On went the slow cooker. I used my flour slurry to thicken it about an hour before serving. By the end of the day, I had a rich, hearty stew to enjoy for a mid-winter supper.
The next time you are in the mood for stew—or soup—be brave and skip the recipe. Let your own tastes shine through. Oh, and be sure to tell me what you tried and how it turned out!