Secret Ingredient Beef Stew

By • February 1, 2010 87 Comments

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Author Notes: I created this recipe for a dinner party I was co-hosting with my sister. I took a lot of steps to make the stew as savory as humanly possible. These steps included: carefully browning the meat; adding great proportions of veggies, including mushrooms and leeks; and stirring in a surprise ingredient: anchovies. The result was delicious, and I served it over buttery, parslied orzo and accompanied by crusty bread. - SmallKitchCaraCara Eisenpress

Food52 Review: This savory, rich stew may be named after one secret ingredient, but it's because of a complex mix of components that it succeeds so well. Tomatoes and tomato paste give it a sunny sweetness, diced veggies lend texture, and red wine and vinegar brighten everything up. Anchovies, the "secret ingredient," are briny and buttery, giving the sauce a smooth, complex finish. We recommend using beef with generous marbling for the best results. - A&MThe Editors

Serves 8-10

  • 5-5.5 pounds beef stewing meat, cut into 2-3 inch pieces
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1/3 cup mixed olive and canola oil
  • 2 leeks, washed well and cut thinly
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 4 celery ribs, diced
  • 4 ounces white mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 anchovies
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup canned whole tomatoes with juices
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  1. Season the beef with salt and pepper on both sides. Brown the meat in batches in a 5-6 quart Dutch oven over high heat, adding more oil as needed. Remove to a plate.
  2. Lower the heat and add all the vegetables. Cook for 5-10 minutes until softened. Stir in the tomato paste and anchovies and cook to melt the anchovies and distribute.
  3. Add the beef back in, with its juices. Add the wine, vinegar, and tomatoes with juice (breaking them up against the side of the pot as you go) and bring to a boil. Add the stock to cover (you may need a bit more than 3 cups). Put in the salt, bay leaf, thyme, bring to a boil. Simmer, partially covered, for 2-3 hours until the meat is tender. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate.
  4. When cool, skim off much of the fat from the top. Reheat over low heat, letting the stew simmer 30-45 minutes before serving.
  5. Mix in half of the parsley and garnish with the rest.

More Great Recipes: Ribs|Beef & Veal|Entrees|Tomatoes

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Comments (87) Questions (5)


3 months ago mollysparrow

This is the only beef stew I make anymore-am making it today on a chilly rainy day! I've made it both true to the recipe and with variations depending on what I have in the house, i.e. excluding leeks, using diced tomatoes instead of whole, etc. It holds up wonderfully to these kinds of changes. These days I usually add more liquid (typically wine) so I can simmer it down uncovered at the end for even more flavor. It's delicious over boiled potatoes and even more so over egg noodles. We love it!


5 months ago Amandadp

I made this and loved it though I significantly reduced the vinegar amount after reading the comments on it being too much. otherwise loved, loved this! Thanks for posting it.


6 months ago King Dash

Looks good!


6 months ago Marcia

Made this with 3 lbs of bone-in/skin on chicken thighs. Made exactly as written, but needed to remove the chicken at the end and cook the liquid down more to thicken it. Flavor was fantastic, even the kids liked it. I only wish I had used 4 lbs of chicken thighs so that I would have a second full meal to freeze for our family of four. There was plenty of liquid left over that could accommodate more chicken. Served it with Alton Browns polenta . Delicious!


8 months ago Pegeen

Pegeen is a trusted home cook.

I cooked this, this weekend, and it was delicious. A few comments:

- DO NOT use the vinegar listed in ingredients for this recipe. Based on reader’s comments, I used half the vinegar mentioned and it was still too much. It wasn’t that my red wine was too much acid on top of the vinegar: I used a sweeter, "jammy" Cabernet because that’s what I had on hand. But there was still too much acid taste even after everything cooked down. Normally I’d add more beef broth to dilute the vinegar spike and then let the extra liquid simmer down. But I didn’t have time, so I cheated and used about one quarter cup Agave syrup to get it leveled out. (Don’t shoot me, but plain corn syrup, like Karo, would also work.)
- I doubled everything in the recipe and then just added broth to cover. I found it took about 4 cups of beef stock plus another cup or two later on. Am fortunate to have a huge cast iron pot that sits across two burners, but if you want to double the recipe, it’s not easy: you’ll definitely need two approximately 6 quart pots to allow head space for evaporation, with lids (although you could use tin foil foil as a lid).
- Cook time: I simmered it for 1 hour uncovered. Then simmered 1 more hour, partially covered. There wasn’t much fat to skim. I did not have time to let it cool and refrigerate, and wait overnight. Served while still warm after the second hour. It was delicious. I’m sure, like most stews, it would have been even better if refrigerated overnight.
- In addition to doubling everything, I added potatoes. About 8 Yukon Gold (small sized potatoes), quartered. Russet or red potatoes would also be fine. Toward the end of the stew’s cook time, I par-boiled the potatoes separately, then added them to the stew. I cooked them separately because I didn’t want them to turn into mush after two hours of simmering. After I added them to the stew, I needed to add another cup or so of beef broth.

It was delicious. Good recipe!

Great recipe - my guests devoured it.


8 months ago helicopterina

Have to come back and comment here. Again. Because this stew is so crazy awesome. My last version had nearly a third of the meet, cut nice and small and a bunch more veg. Plus used half chicken and half veg stock. But I stayed true to the lovely pair of anchovy filets :)


8 months ago Cristina

I always knew anchovies could be used to add flavor like this...i was just too afraid to try! now I'm going for it. thanks!


8 months ago biocarolyn

Made this last night and it was delicious- the first beef stew I've ever loved. I halved the recipe and used home canned beef stock and tomatoes. I didn't have much fat, so I didn't bother to cool and skim, then reheat- just left it on for the extra half hour. I served over pearl barley and the consensus was that it was excellent. I'm betting the leftovers will be even better for lunch today.


9 months ago cpc

It makes the house smell amazing! This is definitely my favorite stew recipe now. It looks as beautiful as it tastes. We ate it as is without adding noodles or potatoes. This will be my go to stew recipe now on.


9 months ago Ann

Also meant to mention that although the recipe is absolutely fine as is, I, like several other reviewers, added lots more carrots and 3 russet potatoes. There is a LOT of meat here and we are vegetable lovers, too, so adding more vegetables worked for us. We also like a slightly "soupier" stew, so I added 1-1 1/2 cups extra stock. I don't think doing so sacrificed any of the flavor. Great for a crowd. And since I wasn't going to be home to watch it, I started it on the stove and then finished it in the crockpot.


9 months ago Ann

Delicious, with lots of depth of flavor. Don't be afraid to add the anchovies. You can't taste them at all when the stew is finished.


10 months ago Diana

I made this with short ribs rather than chuck which turned out fantastically! The sauce is rich, smooth and flavorful. This recipe is delicious and I will make it again, but next time I might add potatoes instead of mushrooms and reduce the vinegar significantly. This recipe is a KEEPER!


10 months ago Diana

The house smells amazing! My butcher was out of chuck so I used short ribs instead. I think the bones will really add a nice hearty flavor and richness to the stew.


10 months ago Vicki Capone

I made this with very little variation (I used water instead of beef broth. Still tons of savory flavor with less sodium.) and it was wonderful. I served it over smashed potatoes. Best beef stew ever! Thanks for the recipe!!


about 1 year ago marymary

Made this yesterday with anchovy paste and it was awesome! I had to use chicken broth (32 ounces) and added red potatoes and lentils. I will definitely make this again with beef broth.


about 1 year ago Joanette

Really liked it! Is is really like a soup stew.


over 1 year ago helicopterina

fun to see that my original comment on this thread was four (4!) years ago. has this site been around that long!?? just wanted to comment back now to say that i recently made this again (and have done so many times in intervening years) only this version used mushroom broth instead of beef broth works really well! thanks again for the great recipe.


over 1 year ago sexyLAMBCHOPx

sexyLAMBCHOPx is a trusted home cook.

I made this recipe sometime ago, but didn't leave feedback. The recipe is absolutely delicious. Not your typical beef stew in the sense that it has chunks of vegetables or a starch (potatoes) to make it typical. Succulent beef chunks in a tomato-based, tangy broth with aromatics. Nothing wrong with that. It lends itself perfectly to serve on top of buttered egg noodles, mashed potatoes, rice or orzo. It's a flavorful tender beef preparation. Highly recommend!


over 1 year ago Ronni Alvarez

Wow! This was the best beef stew recipe I've ever made.


over 1 year ago John Oakley

prepped and put in the slow cooker this morning...just had it for dinner and was simply delicious. served with an arugula salad with meyer lemon vinaigrette. happy.