Slow Cooking the America's Test Kitchen Way: Bachelor Beef Stew

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This is the second in an approximately monthlong series on slow-cooking the America's Test Kitchen way with my pal Catherine Gelera:


Hey CG:

So you originally tagged me to make the Thai-style chicken soup (which I originally was going to have YOU make but it contradicts your "cilantro can go straight to hell" claim). Instead, though, I chose to make the Bachelor Beef Stew because I realized we should definitely try some of the recipes that we can share with everyone else, and I just love the phrase "You won't even need to dirty a knife to make this super-streamlined but surprisingly flavorful beef stew." (Also, I have a recipe for Thai-style chicken soup that I'm already quite attached to.)

I'm not one of those home cooks who's always looking for ways to practice my prep work. I'm happy just to cut open bags and dump into things if it works out well, and that's how this recipe turned out. I was too lazy to ask the butcher for "steak tips" so instead I used Dominick's Ranchers Reserve Choice Beef for Stew and I think it basically turned out the same. I'm not totally sure that shredding the beef is absolutely necessary if the pieces are small enough: that will be your call. I shredded and I found myself popping pre-shredded bits of beef into my mouth, so sue me.

Bachelor Beef Stew from Slow Cooker Revolution Serves 6   Cooking Time: 9 to 11 hours on Low or 5 to 7 hours on High

Why this recipe works: You won't even need to dirty a knife to make this super-streamlined but surprisingly flavorful beef stew. To start, we chose whole steak tips over our traditional choice--cubes of chuck--alleviating the need to cut any raw meat (we shredded it into bite-sized pieces once it was cooked and tender). As for the aromatics and accompanying vegetables, we further simplified things by choosing frozen onions, baby carrots, and frozen roasted potatoes (which we microwaved and added to the stew at the end of the cooking time). A little tomato paste and soy sauce add meaty flavor and richness to this stew.

* 2 cups frozen chopped onions (or 2 onions, minced)
* 3 tablespoons tomato paste
* 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
* 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder (or 6 garlic cloves, minced)
* 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
* 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth, plus extra as needed
* 1 cup beef broth
* 8 ounces baby carrots
* 1/4 cup soy sauce
* 2 tablespoons Minute tapioca
* 2 bay leaves
* 3 pounds beef steak tips
* Salt and pepper
* 1 pound frozen roasted potatoes, steak fries, or French fries
* 1 cup frozen peas

1. Microwave onions, tomato paste, 1 tablespoon oil, garlic powder, and thyme in bowl, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes; transfer to slow cooker.

(here is my blurry photo of this part):

2. Stir chicken broth, beef broth, carrots, soy sauce, tapioca, and bay leaves into slow cooker. Season beef with salt and pepper and nestle into slow cooker. Cover and cook until beef is tender, 9 to 11 hours on low or 5 to 7 hours on high.

(here's my beef):

3. Transfer beef to cutting board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-size pieces. Let stew settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface using large spoon. Discard bay leaves.

4. Microwave potatoes with remaining tablespoon oil in bowl, stirring occasionally, until thawed and warm, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir warm potatoes, shredded beef, and peas into stew and let sit until heated through, about 5 minutes. (Adjust stew consistency with additional hot broth as needed.) Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Smart Shopping: Frozen Chopped Onions
Frozen chopped onions can be a convenient way to save a few minutes of prep time (as well as a few tears). Though we would never recommend them for salads or for recipes in which the onion flavor is important (such as French onion soup), we think they work just fine in hearty dishes such as stew and are well suited to the slow cooker. You can swap one packed cup of frozen chopped onions for one medium minced onion. Just be sure to cook (sauté or microwave) the frozen onions as directed before adding them to the slow cooker.

I was so excited to eat that I forgot to take a "ta-da!" last photo but here is the ATK photo, which is nicer than mine would have been anyway:

I feel like this is a good-old-fashioned don't-overthink-it beef stew. If I knew about this recipe pre-Chicago Blizzard of 2011, I would have had this cooking the day before and then we would have eaten it all weekend, smug that we didn't have to go outside. Fortunately, this entire month has been crappy so it's still stew weather. Good guys' food, too, according to Steve: we were both full after one bowl.

You're not going to believe what happened next. I was washing out the insert to the slow-cooker in the smaller of our two sink halves, the whole time thinking, "I should just clear out the other side and use it, since I'll probably break this." Well, that's exactly what happened. The handle just broke right off thanks to me banging it around in there. I guess I thought a piece of ceramic that big would be stronger than I am. Thank goodness I have some super-glue and put it back together. I'm hoping that it will stay and that the next time I cook the Super-Glue doesn't combine with the food to poison my brain. There's only one way to find out, though...

So hey good lookin', whatcha been cookin'?


PPS Do you know a good way to skim fat off stew that doesn't involve letting it cool completely down? I feel like I can never do that quite right. I read actually in an ATK book that if you 'submerge a piece of lettuce" below the surface, it will get the fat, but I had no such piece of lettuce, nor kale nor swiss chard.