Secret Ingredient Beef Stew

February 1, 2010

Test Kitchen-Approved

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

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
Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 3 hrs 20 min


  • 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.

More Great Recipes:
Stew|Anchovy|Beef|Parsley|Thyme|Vinegar|Slow Cook|Serves a Crowd|One-Pot Wonders|Make Ahead|Winter|Gluten-Free

Reviews (122) Questions (5)

122 Reviews

MissElaineous January 14, 2019
Vegetables. Vegetables. Vegetables. We’re all grown up here, we don’t need cutesy diminutives. FFS.
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.
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.
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!
sbweaver May 2, 2017 wine vinegar way over powered the leeks, carrots, mushroom and celery, not to mention the red wine. If I were to do this over again I would add 1 Tablespoon of vinegar at most. I was so disappointed with this recipe. I've always added anchovies to almost any meat dish I make and I thought this was going to add a new twist. Nope.
Jen A. February 5, 2017
Made it according to instructions except used pearl onions and did mushrooms separately and added in at the end for the reheat combined with flavors seamlessly. Enjoyed the vinegar level! Definitely added on to the winter dinner rotation!
Nancy January 24, 2017
The broth was delicious, but the stew meat was not tender. Will probably try it with a roast instead of stew meat next time.
Catherine O. June 25, 2016
What's the secret ingredient please? Looks great but straightforward.
Amanda T. December 18, 2016
Ellen L. March 14, 2016
Question about the canned tomatoes. There is really only 1 cup of whole canned tomatoes? That doesn't seem like very much -- maybe 3-4 tomatoes. Can some one just confirm this for me?
cpc March 15, 2016
I always dump the whole can in. Chopped tomatoes are fine.
lisa March 15, 2016
So do I. (Dump the whole can in!) <br />
cpc March 14, 2016
I've made this recipe several times and it turns out great every time. This last time, I had to leave for carpool duties of several hours so once everything was in the pot, I popped the whole thing in the oven at 200 degreesF and left it for about 4 hours. It turned out perfectly.
yiase January 10, 2016
Had this tonight and although there was depth to the flavors of the stew, I'm baffled at what went wrong...<br />Followed the recipe to a 'T', but the meat was so rough. I seared as instructed, simmered for 2.5h (tasted at 2h and was rough) let come to room temp for 1. At this point, it was a bit tender. It went in the fridge overnight. Heated as instructed the following day, and it was shoe leather. What am I doing wrong? This is my 4th attempt at stew with the same results, so I know it's an error on my end . The meat I used said 'extra lean stew meat' so I wonder if a fattier cut would have helped? Any thoughts are appreciated!
Ann January 10, 2016
I never use extra lean stew beef in any beef stew recipe. It is just too lean and doesn't really withstand a long cooking time without getting tough. I buy a fattier cut. I usually ask the butcher to cut up a pot roast.
Juliebell August 17, 2016
I never buy cut up "stew meat" as you can't be sure what you are getting. Buy a well marbled chuck roast and cut into chunks or ask your butcher to do and I think you will be assured of a great result.
LVC December 14, 2015
I have to echo the vast majority of comments-the taste is unparalleled.with an exceptionally rich layered flavor. Like others I added vegetables on hand (red potatoes and green beens) but only during the last 45 minutes. This is definitely something to add to my recipe collection.
mikm November 21, 2015
Followed this recipe to the T and it came out fantastic. Best stew I've ever had or made. I wouldn't reduce the vinegar as some have recommended - the slight tangy/sour flavor is wonderful. For the wine I used a full bodied Malbec.
lisa November 15, 2015
Enjoy, Stacey. It is so so good.