When making stews, keep these tips in mind:
- In choosing cuts of meat for stewing, look for flavor, rather than tenderness. The long cooking will break down any tough connective tissues and fibers. Although boneless meat is commonly used, meat on the bone is also an option; the bones will enrich the stew and can be removed after cooking. Beef round or chuck makes the best stewing beef, while lamb shoulder or shank is often used for lamb stews. Chicken thighs and duck legs are good choices for poultry.
- When browning the meat and vegetables, follow the rules for searing: Dry the food first on paper towels, add it to hot oil without crowding, and don't stir too often. This will allow the meat to brown and to create browned bits on the pan bottom, which will flavor the sauce.
- An enameled cast-iron Dutch oven or covered casserole is a perfect vessel for stewing as it allows you to brown, cook, store, reheat and serve the stew in the same pot. An electric slow cooker is also ideal for preparing richly flavored stews.
- The liquid in a stew should cover or almost cover the pieces of food.
- Stews may be cooked on the stovetop, but medium-low oven heat allows for more even cooking and for a lower temperature, thus ensuring more tender results.
- Add quicker-cooking foods, such as potatoes and peas, when the meat is tender, and then cook them until tender, usually only 10 to 20 minutes. If you are making the stew a day ahead, add these ingredients the next day when reheating it.
- To make a stew 1 day ahead, let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate. The next day, lift off any congealed fat from the surface, then slowly reheat the stew.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)