M: What’s the difference between soup and stew? If you go strictly by their definitions, it’s a matter of how much liquid is in there. Soup is a liquid food that sometimes has meat or vegetables in it, while stew is a dish of meat and/or vegetables slowly cooked in liquid. That all makes sense, but if I make a particularly hearty chicken noodle soup, does it become chicken noodle stew? Perhaps. Is chili a stew? I suppose so. Minestrone sometimes seems pretty stew-like, but is usually thin enough to be correctly called a soup and there are plenty of beef and vegetable soup recipes out there one wouldn’t confuse with stew. And then there’s stew that will never ever spark this culinary debate.
This is that stew.
Loaded with beef, potatoes, carrots and whatever stew-friendly vegetables may be lurking in the pantry or root cellar, put down the spoon and grab a fork. A nice, long simmer makes everything tender, but not too mushy and thickens the consommé to a not-quite gravy consistency that is just about perfect without a hint of flour or corn starch, especially if you include okra in your melange of vegetables. This winter dish nails it exactly as written.
What to change
All that said, it’s stew, which means I rarely stick to the recipe. It’s just to easy to tinker with, depending on what’s in the house. As written, it has an open door policy on what vegetables go into the mix, which is a very good thing. Parsnips, leeks rutabaga.. If it seems like it will play well in the stew without disintegrating, in it goes. Herbs like rosemary and thyme can add a little depth to the flavor in small amounts and I sometimes increase the hot sauce to warm my bones on a cold winter day. Taste as you go and you won’t go too far wrong.
What not to change
Always sear the beef first and use the onions to deglaze the pot. The texture of the meat in important and that deglazing makes for a richer stew.
Don’t add flour or cornstarch. A nice simmer should create a thick broth without crossing over into gravy territory.
Don’t stray too far on cook time. The window to simmer is wide and it’s tempting to turn this into a slow cooker recipe, and you can. Just don’t expect it to be as good if you leave it to simmer for eight or nine hours. The vegetables should be soft, but left to simmer too long will turn to mush. Conversely, rushing the stew will result in beef that is a little tough and doesn’t allow the flavors to fully develop.
Oh, and don’t forget the bread when serving. You’ll want some biscuits, cornbread or a hearty loaf of something to sop up every last bit of this winter favorite.
Recipe: Parsons Vegetable Beef Stew
Summary: Classic vegetable beef stew is what’s for dinner this winter and this easy recipe gets it just right (but we still can’t help but tinker with it). From The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook.
- 2 lb Beef Stew Meat
- 2 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Black Pepper
- 3 T Unsalted Butter
- 1 c Chopped Celery Leaves
- 1 Large Onion, finely chopped
- 1 (10.5-ounce) can beef consommé
- 2 T Ketchup
- 1 T Worcestershire sauce
- 1 T Sugar
- 4 dashes hot pepper sauce
- 1 lb White Potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 lb Carrots, peeled an cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 lb Small Onions, peeled and quartered
- 2 Stalks Celery, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 c Shredded Turnips, Garden Peas, Green Beans, Sliced Okra and/or other vegetables
- Season beef with salt and pepper and, working in batches, brown well in 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in a dutch oven over medium-high heat, added butter as needed.
- Transfer browned meat into a bowl.
- Add celery leaves and onion to pot, stirring to coat and deglaze.
- Add consommé, stirring and scraping to deglaze bottom of pot.
- Fill consommé can with water and add to pot.
- Stir in ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, and hot sauce.
- Return meat to pot and add water, if needed, to cover.
- Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer one hour.
- Stir in potatoes, carrots, onions, celery and optional vegetables and simmer additional 1 1/2 – 2 hours (until meat is tender).
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.