How to Make Stew

The word stew conjures up visions of friends and family gathered around the table on a chilly day enjoying each other’s company as they dip into bowls of thick broth with chunks of meat and vegetables cooked to perfection.

Let’s start by defining what a stew is. On Is This That Food, the differentiation between soup and stew is “all a matter of liquid.” Essentially, soup has more liquid and stew has less.

Let’s dive a little bit deeper and take a look at the ingredients. Though soup and stew can have the same ingredients, a stew generally has larger pieces of vegetables, and meat or fish. The cooking liquid of a stew just covers these larger ingredients and is simmered over low heat for a longer amount of time which reduces the liquid to a gravy consistency.

So, now that we have a clearer picture of what a stew is, here’s the formula that I follow to make a warm, rich stew with fork-tender meat.

The Meat

Choosing the right cut of meat for stew is probably the most important step in stew making. First, let me start out by saying there is no cut called “stew meat”. What you see as pre-packaged or labeled in the deli case as stew meat is often odds and ends from different cuts. So you really can’t be sure what cuts you are getting.

The best thing to do is to purchase a whole roast and cut it yourself. We will be cooking the meat a longer amount of time which means that the tough, lean cuts are the way to go. These cuts generally don’t have a lot of fat, but they do have a lot of connective tissue. The connective tissue breaks down during long cooking times making the meat tender and very flavorful.

The cuts that I look for are from the front shoulder. This is also known as the chuck. The round is also a nice cut from the rear, but the chuck has more connective tissue making it more flavorful and my first choice.

If you prefer venison, lamb, or goat choose similar cuts from the shoulder.

Once you have selected your roast, trim off as much fat and connective tissue from the outside as you can and cut into bite-sized pieces. I find that 1-inch pieces are perfect.

NOTE: If your only option is stew meat, choose meat that is uniform in size and has a good amount of white striping throughout.

My cooking pot of choice is a Dutch oven, but a stock pot will work as well.  The meat will be seared in hot oil over medium-high heat. Make sure that you sear the meat in batches. This ensures a crisp crust is developed and that the meat isn’t steamed. It also creates delicious bits and pieces on the bottom of the pot, known as fond. These are flavor bombs so leave them in the pot when you transfer the cooked meat to a plate.

The Vegetables

Next comes the veggies. My rule of thumb is 3 – 4 cups of prepared veggies.

My personal favorites are onions, mushrooms, carrots, celery, potatoes, and peas. You could include okra, winter squash, peppers, green beans, turnips, or parsnips.

Start with the onions and cook them until they are just soft. Then add the mushrooms allowing them to cook until they have started to take on a golden brown color.  The carrots and celery are added next and cooked until they just start to soften.

My preference is to add the potatoes during the last 30 minutes of cooking and the peas just minutes before serving. I like my potatoes with a little more bite rather than mushy and my peas green and not grey.

The Seasonings

When it comes to seasonings, I like to keep it pretty simple, salt, pepper, thyme or rosemary, garlic, and tomato paste.

Stir the salt, pepper, and thyme or rosemary into the veggies. Then add the tomato paste and garlic and cook until the garlic is just fragrant.

You could also try paprika, oregano, cayenne pepper, allspice.


This step dissolves all of those lovely bits and pieces that have stuck themselves to the bottom of your Dutch oven or stock pot.

My preference is to use something with a stronger flavor. Something like wine, beer, or cider. I have even used coffee. A half a cup is the perfect amount.

After the garlic has become fragrant, pour your deglazing liquid over the veggies. Scrape the bottom of the pan, loosening the bits and pieces and coating the vegetables with the glaze.

Once you have deglazed, you can add the meat back into the Dutch oven or stock pot.

The Broth

I like to start with 4 cups of broth adding more as necessary. The broth should just cover the meat and veggies by a half an inch. Bring the stew to a boil, and then reduce the temperature to low. Cover and simmer for 1 hour.

As I mentioned above, I add the potatoes and cook for another 30 minutes.


If you want to thicken the stew further, you can add a slurry of flour and broth. For this recipe, whisk 3 tablespoons of flour into 1 cup of broth from the stew making sure that are no lumps. Add it back to the stew and cook until thickened.

The peas are the very last thing to go in. Seriously, minutes before your serve the stew.

This is a just the blueprint for making stew. Be creative. Use your favorite meats, vegetables, and spices. If you don’t want to thicken it with flour, don’t. If you don’t like peas, leave them out. But do gather your friends and family around the table to enjoy a warm bowl stew and good conversation.



How to Make Stew

  • Author: Allie McDonald
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
  • Yield: 8


The word stew conjures up visions of friends and family gathered around the table on a chilly day enjoying each other’s company as they dip into bowls of thick broth with chunks of meat and vegetables cooked to perfection.


  • 2 lbs. chuck roast, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 lb. cremini mushrooms, cut into quarters (optional)
  • 5 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch rounds
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 cup red wine, beer, cider (optional)
  • 6 cups low-sodium beef broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 and 1/2 cups red potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 Tbsp. flour, for thickening if desired


  1. In a large dutch oven or soup pot, over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons oil.
  2. Add the beef in a single layer and don’t overcrowd. You may need to do this in batches. Cook the pieces turning to brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate and continue until all of the meat has been seared.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pot.
  4. Add the onion. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. If including mushrooms, add them now and cook until they have released their liquid.
  5. Add the carrots and celery. Cook until they are soft on the outside, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and garlic, cook until the garlic is fragrant and the paste has darkened, about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the salt, pepper, and thyme stir to combine with the vegetables.
  7. Add 1/2 cup red wine if using or 1/2 cup beef broth stirring to loosen the bits (aka fond) on the bottom of the pan.
  8. Return the meat to the pot. Add enough broth to cover the meat by 1/2-inch. Add the bay leaves.
  9. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to low and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
  10. Add the potatoes and continue to cook for another 30 minutes.
  11. Remove the bay leaf, stir in the peas and cook until warmed through, about 2 minutes.
  12. If you would like to thicken the broth, place the flour in a medium bowl and add 1 cup of broth from the stew. Whisk until they are completely combined. Pour the flour slurry back into the stew slowly while stirring.  Continue stirring until the stew and thickened.


  • If thickening the stew with the flour slurry, add the peas after it has thickened.