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Cold Weather Recipe Prep: Beef Stew With Bacon, Onions, and Mushrooms

The weather here in the Boston area is doing the full Christmas/Winter experience, with sleet and freezing rain followed up a couple of days later by seven inches of snow. And over the next few days the temperature is dropping day by day, heading down below zero (Fahrenheit!) on Thursday. So it’s clearly time for some cold-weather food. I’ve put up several candidates here on the blog over the years, including chicken-and-corn soup,  French onion soup (a classic for these conditions), chicken pot pie, beef rouladen, chicken paprikash, and bean soup with ham. Here’s another in that same category – you’ll need beef chuck, bacon, onions (both regular cooking ones and, ideally, smaller pearl ones (which can be bought frozen), garlic, fresh mushrooms, chicken stock/broth, flour, and spices. (I should note that the recipe as given has several individual browning/cooking steps, and sort of presumes that you’re stuck inside all afternoon. The essential one is browning the meat at first; that really helps. The separate mushroom/onion stuff is definitely good, but not as crucial).

Cut two medium-size onions up coarsely (it’s good to get that part over with!) After you’ve dealt with those (put them to one side for now), you’ll need about 3 pounds of beef chuck (1.5 kilograms), cut down into pieces between 1 and 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm, more towards the former). Season these with salt and black pepper, and let them stand while you fry about a quarter-pound (c. 115 grams) of bacon in a large pot, with a cover, that can be heated in an oven (a cast-iron “Dutch oven” is ideal, but enameled cookware or any such covered pot that can be baked is fine). Take out the bacon when browned and pour off about half the bacon drippings, reserving those until later. Once the bacon has cooled down, break or chop it up into smaller pieces.

In the remaining bacon fat, brown the pieces of meat over medium to high heat, with occasional stirring. You’ll want to break this process up into two or three batches, because otherwise the pot will be too crowded, and the meat will mostly steam instead of browning. This should just be a few minutes per batch – enough to brown the pieces but not cook them through. Take the meat out as it’s done and put it to one side. At this point, you’ll want to heat the oven to 250F (120C) – the stew will be going in there for a while.

While that’s going on, add the onions to the pot and cook them over medium heat until they’re soft and just beginning to brown. (I’m not going to specify a time for that, but anyone with any kitchen experience knows that recipe writers always seem to lie about how long it takes. You’re not going for caramelized onions here, which is where the most egregious falsehoods show up, although they should pick up some color). Now add three cloves of garlic, minced or pushed through a garlic press, and cook this for another minute or so. (Note: I have no problem with garlic presses myself, although I know people who do, and some professional cooks rail agains them. I have not seen a test where someone has tried a blind trial between garlic-press garlic and finely hand-minced garlic, and I would especially bet against there being any difference at all when cooked in a stew like this one)! Then stir in 3 tablespoons (25 to 30 grams) of flour and continue to cook, with stirring, for several minutes to let the mixture develop more color.

At this point, add 3 cups (about 700 mL) of chicken broth or homemade chicken stock. (Note: if you like you can take this recipe in more of a bouef bourguignon direction by adding half chicken stock and half red wine at this point – up to you!) Scrape around the bottom of the pan to get anything that might have stuck back up in to the mixture. Add a couple of bay leaves and about a teaspoon of dried thyme (about 4.5 grams). Add the beef and the bacon back to this mixture, cover the pot, and put it in the oven for two hours. (Note: you can also simmer this on low heat on the stovetop, covered, if you wish – you will need to stir it gently every so often if you’re cooking it this way).

While this is going on, you can deal with the pearl onions and mushrooms. You’ll need to cut one pound (450 grams or so) of mushrooms into large pieces, quartered or halved (your choice of mushroom type, although the common white or brown button ones are fine). As for the pearl onions, I strongly recommend buying the frozen bagged ones, because peeling those things is a job for machines and not for human beings. Take one cup of the onions (about 140g – I just went and weighed that out myself), and heat them to defrost and cook them a bit (a microwave is handy for this step, but you can do this in a covered pan with a little water as well). Once you have those ready, and have poured off any accumulated water, brown them in a pan over medium-to-high heat in the some of the remaining bacon drippings. Take those out of the pan and then add the rest of the bacon drippings (I told you this was cold-weather food) and cook the mushrooms over medium-high heat until they’re a bit browned. Add these to the reserved onions, and add all of these to the stew mixture once you’ve hit the two-hour mark or the meat is starting to get tender. Cook all this for another half hour, and you’re done!

19 comments on “Cold Weather Recipe Prep: Beef Stew With Bacon, Onions, and Mushrooms”

  1. Mister B. says:

    If I may one suggestion.
    A beef bourguignon would fit perfectly to this cold weather too !

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beef_bourguignon

  2. Barry says:

    I have never yet found anything that can replace bones for Winter cookery. They can come in as beef bonestock (in lieu of the chicken stock), or with the meat (short ribs or oxtail in lieu of beef chuck)

    1. Kitchen Chemist says:

      Bone-stock is indeed essential for bringing out the best in all manner of winter cookery. And most of us chemists also like to cook (surpise!). But what is the synthetic chemistry analog of stock? What left-over residue, treated/concentrated/distilled to its finest, does the magic? Not a pinch of noble metal — that’s a spice.

      1. TBTU or not TBTU says:

        I don’t know about the stock itself, but those leftover bones bear an uncanny resemblance to that one “lucky” stirbar that’s acquired a patina of various residues that are somehow crucial for the success of a particular reaction. Just add the grotty stirbar, simmer a few hours, fish it out, and your clear solvent has magically been converted to an unimpressive-looking turbid brown liquid full of exactly what you want!

  3. Kelly Abt says:

    This recipe like many other cold weather recipes use bacon drippings for the browning process. It is a good way to go because bacon drippings impart great flavor during the cook. While this recipe calls for bacon to be cooked and then using the drippings, you’ll find that there is a better way with this kitchen gadget. It’s called the Bacon Pro.

    Granted, I am biased, since I’m the inventor and all, but it cooks 23 slices of bacon all at once in the microwave. It is quick, clean, easy, and healthier. The fat drips away and can be saved for later use in all kinds of recipes.

    This is not some cheap drug store bacon cooker. Many housewares experts believe it’s the best bacon cooker ever made for the microwave. There’s not a bacon aficionado in the world who would go back to cooking bacon in the oven or on the stove-top. Check it out at https://www.baconpro.com and watch the video about how it works.

    1. Mark Thorson says:

      Your description sounds great, but the actual device falls far short of that. I want flat bacon, not folded-over pieces. And this looks difficult to clean, especially the gap between the inner and outer cylinders. For $35, I don’t find any aspect of this device appealing.

    2. tangent says:

      “the best bacon cooker ever made for the microwave”

      There’s the rub — I’m not restricted to using the microwave. Best bacon in the dorm room, I could believe.

      Can you bring your sales on-topic by discussing the chemistry of bacon browning and bacon crisping, and what conditions your apparatus supplies as compared to the skillet or the oven?

      (My intuition is it’s important to be able to drive off water and have it stay driven off, and that part of the trouble with microwave bacon cookery comes from the physical limitation that the atmosphere quickly saturates and pushes the equilibrium towards steamed bacon.)

  4. Mark says:

    Despite me being in warm Florida this looks delicious. I’ll know for sure in about 3 hours! Serve w crusty French bread and a thick chewy burgundy and all will be right in (at least the local part of) the world.

    I bet the asterisked word is misplaced here:

    Take those out of the pan and then add the rest of the bacon drippings (I told you this was cold-weather food) and cook the mushrooms over medium-high heat until they’re a bit browned. Add these to the reserved **mushrooms**, and add all of these to the stew mixture once you’ve hit the two-hour mark or the meat is starting to get tender.

  5. JB says:

    Belgians do it right too – stoofvlees w/ frites.

  6. Matt Hall says:

    Thanks Derek, I’m not much of a chef (well I am a biologist these days) but I gave this a crack today and it’s great! I’m all set for the week too.
    Matt

  7. BK says:

    Derek,

    When I make beef stew, I always use a 22oz bottle of malty stout (preferably something with lower IBUs to quell bitterness) as my liquids and a dry/dehydrated broth, Lee Kum Kee chicken bouillon (dat msg is delicious) or Better Than Bouillon. For me, I love the sort of yeastyness from the added beer.

    1. BK says:

      Also, I season flour with salt and pepper and roll my chuck cubes in it then fry in bacon fat… Then deglaze with the beer and proceed.

    2. Derek Lowe says:

      Heading into that Belgian carbonade flammande territory, sounds like, which is a pretty robust beef stew tradition all its own!

      1. BK says:

        I have always made stew like this, but never knew it was a belgian thing, though I don’t use a dubbel/trippel/quad or flanders or oud bruin, but always wondered what would happen if I used a flanders. Looks like it’s been done because I love me some Monk’s Cafe.

  8. Kent G. Budge says:

    *drool*

    I will probably add some pearled barley, for complex carbohydrates.

  9. Oblarg says:

    Good recipe! You can also replace half the stock with Guinness with good results. If you do that, I suggest adding a few splashes of Worcestershire. A few dried porcini, soaked (along with the soaking liquid) will do wonders, as well.

    Salt pork is a nice substitute for the bacon, as well; I prefer it, to be honest.

  10. Thoryke says:

    Some chemistry and bacon news here: an alternative to the traditional form of nitrates used in bacon production — https://cen.acs.org/articles/96/i2/UK-firm-touts-bacon-breakthrough.html

  11. Herveus says:

    I added some turnip, parsnip, and carrot, because I had them. The end result was lovely.

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