Secret Ingredient Beef Stew

By • February 1, 2010 • 73 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&MA&M

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 teaspoon salt
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3/4 teaspoons 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.
Jump to Comments (73)

Tags: can be made ahead, serves a crowd, winter

Comments (73) Questions (4)

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about 1 month 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.

Stringio

2 months ago Joanette

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

Bananacakewithtangyvanilla

8 months ago cookingintheheights

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 and...it works really well! thanks again for the great recipe.

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8 months ago sexyLAMBCHOPx

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!

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8 months ago Ronni Alvarez

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

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8 months 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.

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9 months ago Debra

I have to say I didn't love this. The meat was tender and all... I just found the sauce to be too vinegary....

Port_online

9 months ago SunBunny

Looks A-mazing! Thanks for the inspiration!

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9 months ago Johnny Ringo

I loved this! The only change I made was to substitute some red miso paste for the anchovies, since I didnt' have any.

P1000082

10 months ago Mike C.

Loved it! I added red cabbage....other wise I pretty much followed the recipe here.

Stringio

11 months ago Teamarie

Amazing!! I used grass-fed chuck from my cousin's cow (tends toward tough), and after a long low simmer on the stove, it was like butter. Amazing flavor! It's bookmarked for the future, for sure! Used half the meat, added turnips, served it with a healthy portion of mashed potatoes...yum!!

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12 months ago lisa

Oh, and I did it in a Le Creuset and after simmering it on the stove for a while, I put it in the oven at 300-degrees, for another hour or so. You'll know when it's done! The meat falls apart as it should and the broth is amazing.

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12 months ago lisa

This is a great recipe. I happen to love a great beef stew, and have many favorite versions (including an excellent one from Judy Wicks' White Dog Cafe Cookbook). So I am particular about my beef stew recipes. But this is just wonderful. That zip of anchovy really does elevate the whole dish. My only suggestion is to use half the beef called for in the recipe, and also throw in some large-diced yukon gold potatoes, but follow the rest to a T. (But then, I like a lot of sauce.)

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about 1 year ago Margo

Made this last night, so delicious and hearty. I had egg noodles on the side. yum Yum Yum! I followed recipe exactly :)

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about 1 year ago ECMotherwell

This is SO good. I make it with a few modifications (personal to my own family's tastes, no mushrooms, add in potatoes, use a whole can of whole tomatoes) which I don't think change the spirit of the recipe. It's brilliant, a family favorite. Thanks for sharing, SmallKitchCara!!

Smokin_tokyo

over 1 year ago BoulderGalinTokyo

Thank you for sharing your secret idea stew. I was hoping for extra umami in taste but we feel our regular beef stew recipe, heavier on tomatoes, less beef stock, no vinegar, more spices, is much tastier.

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over 1 year ago Teo

Great recipe with nice, flavorful broth. But, a warning. When everything was assembled I put mine in the oven (in a LaCreuset) at 300 for the braise, and when I checked it an hour later it was boiling like crazy. That might be my oven's fault - I've got to get a thermometer to check on it - but in general it seems to cook true. When I saw what was happening I took the stew out and put it on stovetop to simmer, but the damage was done. Dry meat :(

Moral of the story - whether you simmer or put your stew in the oven, look in on it after 15-20 minutes to make sure the heat's right.

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over 1 year ago Musebe

Can this be made faster in a pressure cooker?

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about 1 year ago ascherl

I haven't made this recipe but I always make my stews in a pressure cooker - prepare as per recipe and cook 30-45 min at high pressure (will be very fragrant when ready). I always use natural pressure release when cooking meat. Works fantastically well!

Stringio

over 1 year ago Sarah Killion 1

Made this for family last night. Delicious!

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over 1 year ago BillHummel

bill's daughter,;
i say.......
IT'S SOOOO GOOOD!!!!!!!!!! my doggie was glad to have some. :)

Carol_and_cousins

over 1 year ago cakillgore

Question: Are you considering the garlic and onions "vegetables" when cooking all the vegetables together? OR do we brown the oils with garlic and onion and bee first? Thanks

Stringio

over 1 year ago Mike Vella

In this instance, I would put them all in together on no more than "medium". It's going to simmer for plenty of time, anyhow.

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almost 2 years ago MadameLaRue

Loved this stew! Added parsnips and rutabaga for an even more wintery rendition. Browned the meat, cooked the vegetables and added all to my crockpot before work. Amazing to come home to!

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almost 2 years ago candicecanandwill

This is really amazing. I added more vegetables here and there but otherwise stuck with the general theme. My house smells amazing and I am full/warm/happy.

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almost 2 years ago fromage

Fantastic! A 'marinara' stew! Very creative and tasty. I forgot the mushrooms (oops) and added more anchovy (love). Rave reviews from the whole family. Thanks!

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almost 2 years ago KarenSue

Amazing! Due to household ingredients, I used less beef and more vegetables that the recipe called for. Also, since I didn't have tomato paste, I added some sun dried tomatoes instead with fabulous deep flavored results. I skipped the anchovies, since I'm allergic -- and I have to plead -- please please don't keep the "secret" ingredient secret to those with allergies - or if you aren't sure, please ask! I would never expect or ask if fish was in a beef stew, and I have an epi pen for my severe allergy. It would be really disappointing to spend the night in the ER because someone kept a secret unusual ingredient from me!!

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about 2 years ago Kathyw

My husband loved it. I'm not a big beef person but I love it when it breaks apart easily like this recipe did. We served it over wide Dutch noodles to get the kids to try it. It was ALOT of prep but I would make it again and freeze half to make the work worthwhile.

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about 2 years ago irinaleibo

Well I'm dissapointed. I am really allergic to fish and shellfish and I would break out in hives or worse if I ate this.
I would really caution and make sure all your guests can eat fish. My husband loves fish and I cook it for him but would never be able to eat this.
Sounds good anyhow!
Cheers
irina

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over 2 years ago Kabocha

We loved this rendition of beef stew! The anchovies definitely lend umami to the broth... a keeper in my book, thank you!

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over 2 years ago Currli

Wow ... This was a great stew. My Husband said it was the best stew he had ever eaten! The "secret ingredient" really puts this stew over the top. This is NOW a family favourite that I am proud to serve. Thanks for sharing!

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over 2 years ago neezs

I'd love to make this but I don't have a pot suitable for the stovetop!!! Would anyone be able to tell me how long I'd need to keep it in the oven and at what heat? Thank you! :)

Buddhacat

over 2 years ago SKK

It is important you brown the meat first. So brown in in batches in whatever container you have. And it is important you cook your vegetables and the anchovies on the stove top so the anchovies melt and do not burn. They are very delicate. Once everything is cooked stovetop in batches, I would have the oven on at about 300 and let it simmer partially covered for at least 2 hours. Then taste it and see if it needs more time.

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over 2 years ago darksideofthespoon

Tried this last night and it was divine! My husband raved and raved over it.. the only thing I changed was I added some rosemary, pearl onions and appeased my love for anchovies by adding 6 or 7. So delicious!

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over 2 years ago mpm6228

I added a cup of dried porcinis soaked in 1 cup hot water--minced the wet mushrooms and put the soaking liquid in too. Added about a cup of frozen pearl onions at the end. Delicious.

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over 2 years ago foodiebiztraveler

Sooo many questions about the recipe directions for this one. Can anyone help?

My husband LOVES stews. I generally don't but thought I'd try cooking this tonight - to serve tomorrow based on comments below. Here are my questions:
1. It says to "remove the beef to a plate" in Step 1...but it doesn't say what to do with the excess sauce...til Step 3. I had 1.5 cups of "liquid" - so much that it would never work on a plate with the meat. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to put it all back in or not after step 2. (I did...we'll see tomorrow.)
2. IF one gets rid of all of the beef and liquid, what is one supposed to cook all of the veggies in? Dry? Add extra oil? (which I did - about a tablespoon) Or should I have kept the liquid IN the pot to cook the veggies in?
3. In Step 3 was I supposed to get the pot to two separate boils - one after the juices and wine/vinegar/tomatoes and one after the stock/salt/seasonings? OR could/should I just put all of that in for one big boil in this step? (what I did)
4. I haven't gotten there yet but I called a foodie friend who asked me if I should be using a gary separator BEFORE putting the liquid back in. Thoughts?

At this point it is cooling...and already tastes good so I am looking forward to it. It takes such a long time I didn't want to make big mistakes re questions above. Interested to hear answers...

Thanks!

FoodieBizTraveler

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over 2 years ago foodiebiztraveler

Well, it all worked out! My husband said it was the best stew he ever had! :)

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almost 3 years ago Grandma Kathy

Could I just as easily use anchovy paste. I keep that on-hand for Caesar salad.

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almost 3 years ago sexyLAMBCHOPx

I used anchovy paste and loved this stew!

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almost 3 years ago sexyLAMBCHOPx

I used anchovy paste and loved this stew!

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almost 3 years ago Snafu06

Just tried this recipe. Great flavor and depth. Subbed in chicken broth for beef broth because I think it makes the flavors pop more. Really good.

Jill-weddingheaddancing

almost 3 years ago jilladavis

This stew tastes so much better on day 2!! The meat really needs to soak up the broth.

This is a delicious recipe, and reminds me of Neapolitan Ragu (a recipe in All About Braising by Molly Stevens).

Now I must eat all the leftover anchovies.

:-)

Jill-weddingheaddancing

almost 3 years ago jilladavis

This stew tastes so much better on day 2!! The meat really needs to soak up the broth.

This is a delicious recipe, and reminds me of Neapolitan Ragu (a recipe in All About Braising by Molly Stevens).

Now I must eat all the leftover anchovies.

:-)

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about 3 years ago felony

Drizzle and grey and cold and miserable - the joy of a southern state winter in Australia.
What's a girl to do but fill the house with warmth from an oven, and the delicious smells of some slow cooked beef?!? Followed the master recipe (as much as I can anyways!) and all the boxes were totally ticked! Now I just have to try and stay awake with my boyo for the final (thank god!) night of the Tour de France.
Many thanks smallkitchcara for taking the guesswork out of the menu!

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about 3 years ago athoughtforfood

I'm thinking that one of these days I need to make the hubs a big pot of beef stew. While I won't eat it, I would certainly get lots of pleasure in knowing that he's a happy man... and I'll enjoy inhaling the wonderful aroma.

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over 3 years ago kitkat

I've tried many beef stew recipes and found a few keepers and this one is certainly in the keeper category - yummy and sophisticated!

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over 3 years ago sarah k.

Holy umami, Batman! This stuff is almost sensory overload. We like it a lot.

Buddhacat

over 3 years ago SKK

Have commented on this recipe before and want to say what a huge hit it is. I went to a large family gathering about 6 hours drive away. Made this wonderful recipe at home and hauled it across the mountains. Rave reviews and it gets better the longer it sits.

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over 3 years ago Catacus

Yum! A great recipe - nice depth of flavor.

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over 3 years ago ZiggyPiecrust

We made this last weekend (our third time over past year) it was absolutely the best beef stew we've ever eaten. Quote from my husband "If we ever got something like this in a restaurant - we'd be falling down and hugging ourselves". Says it all really.

Buddhacat

over 3 years ago SKK

It is a spectacular recipe and plus smells so good while it is cooking. Thank you for sharing this.

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over 3 years ago flossy

downright fabulous. thanks!

Mrs._larkin_370

over 3 years ago mrslarkin

Mrs. Larkin is a trusted source on Baking.

Made this for dinner tonight. It was really delicious and easy. Thanks for the recipe!

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over 3 years ago GinaMour

I just made this for Sunday lunch and it was a huge hit! Thanks

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almost 4 years ago yquinonez

Made this last night and enjoyed it today. Wonderful richness, loved it. Thank you.

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almost 4 years ago Marmiton

Fantastic! The best beef stew I have ever had, and I have tried a lot as it is one of my favorite dishes, added a few tators for the last hour, the tomoto paste and anchovies made this dish! So deep in flavour! Well done!!

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over 4 years ago polkadotapron

We tried this a few nights ago and it was delicious! It's the best stew my hubby's ever made.

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over 4 years ago georgeiii

Vinegar was a nice touch. Skipping the pork (fat back) from my family's usual Daube Provencal made the dish less rich, but the flavors were all brighter. A repeater.

Dscf3013

over 4 years ago Cara Eisenpress

Thanks everyone for your comments and your votes!

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over 4 years ago Allison Cay Parker

Congrats on the win! I am not an anchovy fan, but will eat them if sufficiently motivated. This recipe just might do the trick. It sounds too good not to try.

Dscf3013

over 4 years ago Cara Eisenpress

I swear! You really can't taste them. Along w/ the rest of the ingredients, they just enliven the stew. Let me know how it turns out!

My_catering_(2)

over 4 years ago Aliwaks

love the anchovies! I added then to the short ribs i made this weekend, and almost always add them to my tomato sauce.

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over 4 years ago Jestei

this looks insane. i can't wait to make it.

Jenniferperillo2010bio

over 4 years ago Jennifer Perillo

I love cooking with secret ingredients. This sounds delicious and can't wait to try.

Bananacakewithtangyvanilla

over 4 years ago cookingintheheights

served this last night and it was a big hit with 5 adults and 4 kids....and loved it with parsleyed orzo. yum!!

Dscf3013

over 4 years ago Cara Eisenpress

Oh so glad to hear it turned out well.

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over 4 years ago kkenner

looks fantastic!! cant wait to try it!
This gamine website is awesome too...

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over 4 years ago ahasbrookc

the anchovies are something i wouldnt have thought of, good luck!

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over 4 years ago The Gamine

smallkitchen cara, we love you and your beef stew!

love,
the girls at www.thegamine.com

Zester_003

over 4 years ago pierino

pierino is a trusted source on General Cooking and Tough Love.

I'm absolutely down with the anchovy part. It adds a bottom flavor that even anchovy haters (like my sister) can't detect. It's one of our secret weapons.

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over 4 years ago PhoebeLapine

yay! I'm sad I didn't get to try the original--but I'll have to test it out myself now! Congrats!

Stringio

over 4 years ago testkitchenette

What a great application for anchovies!

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over 4 years ago lastnightsdinner

I love this. I've been playing with adding things like anchovies and fish sauce to beefy dishes for a few months myself, and it really does boost the meaty flavor!