I always love the thought of a rich hearty stew in the middle of winter, but I hate the actual outcome of my typical beef stew. Vegetables that are mushy and falling apart, meat that is tough and chewy, and a sauce that never seems to thicken correctly. A recent Fine Cooking issue did an excellent how-to guide for stews and as I was discussing trying one, a good friend of mine (Andy from The Agility Project) suggested I try modernizing it a bit by cooking everything sous vide. It sounded like a good idea, so I decided to attempt my own version of sous vide beef stew with a few modern techniques.
First, the meat. I decided to stick with the basics, good old “Stew Meat” from the local supermarket. This meat will undoubtedly come from the tougher regions of the cow (shoulder, leg) sometimes referred to as ‘chuck.’ Typically these meats are tenderized through the slow simmer of a stew.
The temperature of a simmer is around 200°, at this temperature over several hours, the meat should denature and tenderize. If the temperature raises to boiling, 212°F, the meat could become tough and stringy. Regardless, both of these temperatures are well above the perfect temperature for tough cuts of meat, so for this application I’m going to cook the meat sous vide at 140°F for 48 hours.
The long cooking time will break down the meat leaving it extremely tender; the vacuum sealed pouch will keep all the juices inside keeping the meat moist, and the temperature of 140°F will give you a nice pink center with plenty of flavor. What’s nice about this is once it’s in the water you don’t have to do anything for two days, other than top up the water if you have some evaporation.
2 Days Later
After the meat is done cooking we need to do a bit of classical cooking. I’ll fry up some bacon, sear the meat, cook a mirepoix (celery, carrots, onions), add some flavor enhancers and then deglaze it all with red wine. This will form the base of the liquid the vegetables will cook in.
I added in some beef stock I had frozen from a batch a few weeks ago and mixed it all together to form a really beefy stewing liquid. Now instead of stewing it all together in one big pot I divided the liquid into three pouches and put chopped turnips, butternut squash, and potatoes in each bag individually. Using a chamber vacuum sealer it’s easy to seal any bag with liquid. Alternatively I could have just popped them in a ziploc and extracted as much air as possible.
Into the water bath now set to 185°F for 45 minutes. This method will give the vegetables a really nice texture that has softened all the fibrous parts, but hasn’t made them mushy. You’ll have a firm bite with a soft interior texture.
Once the vegetables were done I strained the juices into a large bowl and weighed out how much liquid I had. In order to give the liquid a thicker and creamier texture, I added xanthan gum at a rate of 0.35% or 2.9g for the amount of liquid I had. At this rate the sauce will thicken slightly, just enough to cover the back of a spoon or coat all the vegetables and meat in the stew.
Once the sauce has been thickened I added back in the vegetables and the meat and heated until just warmed through. Soft tender meat, firm vegetables, and a creamy sauce saturated with beef flavor. A modern take on a hearty classic.