Make Ahead

Secret Ingredient Beef Stew

October 19, 2021
4 Stars
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 3 hours 20 minutes
  • Serves 8 to 10
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. —Cara Eisenpress

Test Kitchen Notes

When the temperatures drop, sometimes all you crave is a big bowl of beef stew, and this recipe most definitely hits the spot. 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, finely chopped veggies lend a lot texture, and red wine and vinegar brighten everything up. Anchovies, the "secret ingredient," are briny and buttery, giving the sauce a smooth, complex finish. The hit of umami really brings the flavor of this stew over the top. You may not use anchovies regularly, but this stew will convince you otherwise. We also recommend using beef with generous marbling for the best results.

Along with the secret ingredient, the stew is chock-full of leeks, onions, carrots, celery, and mushrooms, comfort food in a bowl. It's one of those one-pot wonders that takes a few hours to cook, but the result is well worth it. Low and slow and hands off is what makes this stew so good. Many commenters recommend deglazing the pot with cognac, which is a step that led to even more richness and depth. You could also throw in some potatoes for a heartier dish. Try with beans or peas too, whatever you've got on hand or need to use up. One of the best things about making a big pot of stew is the versatility, so feel free to get inspired by this base recipe and experiment. - A&M —The Editors

Ingredients
  • 5 pounds beef stewing meat, cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup mixed olive oil and canola oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 leeks, washed well and thinly sliced
  • 8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 ounces white mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 anchovies
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup canned whole tomatoes with juices
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 3 cups (or more) homemade or store-bought beef broth
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Season the beef with salt and pepper on both sides. In a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven or large pot over high heat, brown the meat in batches, adding more oil as needed. Transfer to a plate.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion, celery, carrots, leeks, garlic, and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes, until softened. Stir in the tomato paste and anchovies and cook to melt the anchovies and combine.
  3. Return the beef to the pot along with any accumulated juices. Add the wine, tomatoes with juice (breaking them up against the side of the pot as you go), and vinegar and bring to a boil. Add the broth to cover (you may need a bit more than 3 cups). Add the bay leaf and thyme; season with salt and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium-low heat, partially covered, for 2 to 3 hours, until the meat is tender. Let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate.
  4. When cool, skim off the fat from the top. Reheat over low heat, letting the stew simmer for 30 to 45 minutes before serving.
  5. Stir in half of the parsley, then garnish with the remaining parsley.
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I'm the founder, editor, and head chef at the blog Big Girls, Small Kitchen (www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com), a site dedicated to easy-to-execute recipes and stories from a quarter-life kitchen. I'm also the author of In the Small Kitchen published in 2011.

151 Reviews

SophieL January 28, 2022
So delicious! I halved the vinegar and doubled the anchovies. I also subbed a chopped fennel bulb for the leeks (because that's what I had) and added a cup of frozen peas during the second-night reheating. Perfect dinner on a cold January night.
 
Catherine O. January 28, 2022
I'm so glad to see someone else who knows the 'magic' of anchovies.
 
Priddysweet January 1, 2022
Definitely not what I was expecting. It was too much vinegar and fishy for our family.
 
Catherine O. January 1, 2022
Wow! I'm really surprised. Those two ingredients are such a small amount of the volume/weight.
 
Deborah October 16, 2021
Delicious! Like others, I use stew meat and only 1/4 cup vinegar, and I add a few good gluts of Worcestershire instead of anchovies. Even my picky husband makes sincere yummy noises!
 
Catherine O. October 16, 2021
Curious why you didn't use anchovies. You can get salt packed that keep pretty much forever in the fridge.
 
Deborah October 16, 2021
Just personal preference—I don’t like them. :) I added the Worcestershire to give the necessary hint of them in a context I tolerate. Turned out to be a nice addition!
 
Deborah October 16, 2021
Glugs.* Autocirrect is the worst. :)
 
Deborah October 16, 2021
Gah!
 
Catherine O. October 16, 2021
Certainly do what you please but I swear that you'd never know it was there. It just gives some umami. I forgot to ask, what is "stew meat." I'm not familiar with it. Thanks.
 
Maryloree March 19, 2021
Can potatoes be used in this recipe?
 
lisa March 19, 2021
Yes, definitely. I always add Yukon golds and increase the broth (or decrease the meat).
 
cpc March 19, 2021
I usually add a couple. Just make sure you have enough liquid
 
Kathcooks March 14, 2021
This is delicious and now my forever go-to stew recipe. Here are my tweaks (just a few). I DO use lean stew meat from the grocery and haven't ever had issues with toughness. I tossed the seasoned meat (used only 2 lbs.) in a little bit of flour as I like a little thickening and the meat browns better. I also used 1/2 butter and 1/2 olive oil for browning. I used 4 cups of beef stock and only 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar. The anchovies and all that garlic, plus the tomato paste, contribute so much to the rich flavor of this stew. My family loved this! It is company worthy!
 
Katie November 27, 2020
As someone with a nasty seafood allergy, I feel the need to say that I would urge people to tell their guests about the anchovies, if you are having people over. I would never guess that there would be anchovies in beef stew. But this recipe looks amazing and I will be making it without that one ingredient!
 
Christie C. November 26, 2020
This is the best stew by far yet I added one other step in browning the meat, I deglaze the pan with cognac in between the meat browning and oh my - yummy.
 
Michelle N. November 7, 2020
This was underwhelming for the effort. Too tangy and not enough deep beef flavor.
 
Christie C. September 10, 2020
I too think this is one of the best beef stews I have ever made. The only thing I changed was to deglaze the pan with cognac after browning the meat. And it freezes perfectly.
 
Ambchop September 10, 2020
Its chilly in Austin for the day, hahah, so time to break out the trusty stew recipe. I have made this recipe several times only loosely following the amounts. I always make sure to include the anchovy, red wine vinegar (or ACV), and tomato paste because thats what makes it in my opinion. I tend to leave out the leeks mostly from convenience. I agree that its best to buy a chuck roast and cube yourself, but sometimes I cheat and buy the "stew meat" and it still comes out so great. Definitely a go-to for those rare chilly days here in central Texas.
 
Damira A. April 19, 2020
So satisfying! I followed the recipe exactly as directed using only half of all the ingredients. I used a nonstick pan to brown the chuck roast (shoulder) cut by the butcher with bones, 4 minutes in each side in batches of 4 pieces (out of 10). I used the same pan to cook the vegetables. In the meantime, I boiled beef bones in Dutch oven to make the broth. Then I put everything together into a Dutch oven. I was not sure if I should keep the lid open or closed. It makes sense to keep it slightly open for the wine to evaporate. So I kept it closed for 1 hr, then slightly open for 1.5 hr. The meat did not fall off the bone. But we still served it over mashed potatoes for lunch. I kept cooking the stew with a closed lid for another hour. And I could not believe how much better it got in the last hour of cooking. Patience paid off - a 3.5 hr stew turned out to be absolutely delicious with the meat falling off the bones :)
 
Christie C. December 30, 2019
this is a great reciepe and the only change I made was to deglaze the beef a few times with cognac during the browning stage.
 
Sharon September 15, 2019
Anchovies are a great addition. Heap big umami hit! I would strongly advise not using anything marked "stew meat" because you have NO idea what mixture of tough, stringy cuts you're getting. Buy a chuck roast and dice it yourself and you'll never be disappointed.
 
MissElaineous January 14, 2019
Vegetables. Vegetables. Vegetables. We’re all grown up here, we don’t need cutesy diminutives. FFS.
 
Kathcooks March 14, 2021
Such a strange and unnecessary comment. Be nicer.
 
MissElaineous March 14, 2021
What is. “Not nice” about expecting adult language? Grow up.
 
Kathcooks March 14, 2021
"FFS" is so grown up. Again, just be nicer, this is a nice place.
 
Jessica J. November 19, 2018
Just made this last night. It was excellent. I used chuck roast, cutting out the big slabs of fat. The marbling was enough on it's own. I used about 3 lbs of meat (after cutting off the fat), and added peas, pearl onions and some cooked green beans I already had in the fridge. I didn't use red wine or red wine vinegar because I didn't have any. I used dry sherry and white wine vinegar. I was going to serve it over polenta but ended up eating it as a soup. It was very very good. Would definitely make it again.
 
Ann June 15, 2018
Has anyone made this without searing the meat first? I think this can make or at least contribute to making the meat tough, which is a main beef stew complaint. I’ve made this as directed—some meat tough, some not—but have made other recipes without searing. Personally when a stew is this flavorful, I’m not sure it adds much.
 
Sharon September 15, 2019
The only way searing would make the meat tough is if your fire is too high and you sear it for too long. This would result in a very dark, tough crust, from which the meat will never recover. I know, I did that once while distracted. Fortunately, I've been on alert ever since and never let it happen again.
 
vjbortolot April 24, 2018
Some SE Asian fish sauce (1 Tbsp maybe) would also do the trick if you don't want to open a can of anchovies. But I would certainly open a can, use the two fillets, then eat the rest right off, and lick the can.
 
Suse February 22, 2018
So many layers of complex flavor in this recipe. Husband and I thought it was the best beef stew ever.
 
Joyce January 18, 2018
Has anyone made this recipe in an Instant Pot?
 
mgo19991 April 24, 2018
Not yet, but I’d like to try it in an IP.
 
kellaa January 24, 2020
Yes! Comes out great. I pressure cook it for about 45 minutes. Only change I made is to leave out the beef broth entirely when you do it. When you pressure cook it, it extracts so many juices out of everything, so you just end up with way too much liquid otherwise.
 
jilladavis March 25, 2022
I need more information please!

So you add all the ingredients (but for the broth) and pressure cook for 45? Then add the broth? Anything else I should know? Please be specific. I love this recipe and don't want to mess it up!!

Thank you!!
 
Windy C. January 14, 2018
Made it exactly as specified but added 4 instead of 3 cups of stock because I like a lot of gravy (and it used up the box of stock). Use dmy own canned tomatoes. The vinegar cooks off just enough to leave a not-overwhelming brightness.