Make Ahead

Secret Ingredient Beef Stew

February  1, 2010
11 Ratings
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. - SmallKitchCara —Cara Eisenpress

Test Kitchen Notes

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&M —The Editors

  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 3 hours 20 minutes
  • Serves 8-10
  • 5 pounds beef stewing meat, cut into 2-3 inch pieces
  • 1 pinch salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 pinch pepper, plus more to taste
  • 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
In This Recipe
  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.
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I'm the founder, editor, and head chef at the blog Big Girls, Small Kitchen (, 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.

140 Reviews

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.
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.
Lorrie H. October 6, 2017
This is a wonderful stew. I halved the recipe but used a whole can of tomatoes. Other than that made as directed and served as a shepherd's pie with mashed potatoes on top and browned in the oven. Everyone loved it. Thanks!
Catherine O. October 6, 2017
Traditionally shepherd's pie is made with lamb and cottage pie with beef. But lots of people use beef for either.
Lorrie H. January 18, 2018
Thanks for the info. I'm half Basque and my Great Grandfather was a sheep rancher so we probably had a great recipe in the past made with lamb but it is lost to me although the name remains. I make many stews with lamb that have anchovies as this does which is why I tried it. I think based on your comment I will try one of these to make a Basque Shepherd's pie. Thanks so much!
Caitlin M. May 20, 2017
I have made this many times, and absolutely love how the broth turns out- so rich and good! I have made some changes to the original though: i use only 2.5 ish lbs of beef and sub in about 1.5 lbs potatoes. This is more economical and beef stew is good with potatoes! I also add a cup or two of frozen peas at the end, because why not? I use the whole can of tomatoes, and extra veggies so as not to have so many leftovers. This means that I only need about one 15 oz can of beef broth before the pot is almost overflowing! I know I have changed it a lot but the vinegar and wine and anchovies and whole tomatoes were things I would probably not have thought to use and they make it just soooo yummy. I usually try to freeze some leftovers but often we eat almost all of it right away!
KarenSue May 2, 2017
I am stunned by the recent disappointments in this recipe. My 3 sons of high school and college age beg me to make this for them! I skip the anchovies since I am allergic, but otherwise my family loves this recipe!