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1 May 2010

Crockpot beef stew from scratch

In the cooler months I love using my crockpot/slow cooker.  It tenderises cheaper cuts of meat over the long slow cooking process and it makes many kinds of excellent soup.  The trick is to keep to your cooking from scratch principles when using the crockpot; using tins of soup or stock in a carton is not an option.  You can get excellent flavour without adding any packets of sauce mix or pre-packaged soups, and you get the flavour without preservatives or artificial colourings. I thought I'd do a tutorial on a basic stew that is delicious as is, but also suitable for adding all sorts of  different vegetables, herbs and spices to change the character of it.  This version is a variation on beef stroganoff, without the mushrooms, but if you have some, go ahead and add them.

The trick to adding flavour to a crockpot meal is to take some time at the beginning of the process to  caramelise the meat in a frying pan and build up a flavour profile right from the start.  If you caramelise the meat and some of the vegetables, you have a better and more natural flavour than adding soup, stock cubes, powder or carton stock.

INGREDIENTS - serves four or five
Olive oil
1 kilo/ 2 pounds of chuck, blade, flank, skirt, round or topside beef - diced
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons paprika
2 medium onions, quartered, or chopped if you're serving children
2 tablespoons plain/all purpose flour
1 cup water

2 medium carrots
2 sticks celery, including the tops
bay leaf and a couple of sprigs of thyme

In a frypan, add enough olive oil to barely cover the bottom of the pan.


Add the meat in three batches.  Adding more meat to the pan will make it produce liquid, which you don't want.  Divide the meat equally into three portions and add one portion at a time.  Stand to the side cutting your vegetables while the meat browns but make sure you stir the meat so it doesn't burn.  Here, you're aiming for nicely browned meat.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  You'll need about ½ teaspoon of salt and about ¼ teaspoon pepper.  When the meat has brown properly, move it to the crockpot and add the next portion of meat.  You might have to add a bit more oil if the pan is dry.  You need oil for the meat to brown but you do not want oil swimming in the bottom of the pan.  On this second portion, add the paprika and stir in.  When it's browned, add it to the crockpot and bring in the final portion.  When the final portion has browned, add the onions and brown them.
This is an important step in building flavour, don't skip it or try to hurry it up.

When you have the last lot of meat and onions in the pan and it's finished browning, add two tablespoons of plain/all purpose flour and stir in.

When the flour has been stirred in and is coating the onions and meat, add 1 cup water and stir until the sauce thickens.

You'll notice the nicely brown sauce.  This is all natural flavour produced by taking the time to brown the meat and onions.

Now you can add all your ingredients to the stockpot/slow cooker.  You will add the carrots and celery uncooked.  Start by adding all the meat and sauce.

Above you can see the batch of meat that I added the paprika to.  It's now in the crockpot.

Add the vegetables, thyme and bay leaf, as well as all the meat.

Stir everything together in the crockpot. Turn it on to Auto - this will heat on high for a couple of hours, then automatically turn itself to the low setting to finish cooking.  Cook for about 4 or 5 hours, or all day on low if you're going out and you want a hot dinner waiting when you come home.

One hour before the end, add sliced potatoes or sweet potato.  If you're going out all day you can add the potatoes with the rest of the vegetables.  I like adding them at the end because I like them to retain their sliced shapes.

I served ours with boiled brussel sprouts and a dollop of sour cream.  If you prefer, you can add the sour cream to the sauce and stir it in before you serve it, or leave it out altogether. Before serving, check for seasoning and add more if it needs it.

And there you have it - beef stew cooked from scratch in a crockpot.  No need for tinned or packed soup or stock.  It's a delicious and healthy family meal.  If you have  the time this is one of those dishes ideally suited for freezing, so make a double batch and freeze half for next week.

Oh, another small tip, don't be tempted to add more liquid at the start.  The meat and vegetables will release moisture during the cooking process.

This is a basic recipe that can be changed.  Adding curry powder instead of paprika will give you a tasty and spicy beef curry.   Add tomatoes, some tomato paste and capsicum/bell peppers and you'll have an Italian beef casserole you could serve with pasta.

Whatever you're eating this weekend, I hope you make it with love.  It always tastes better if you stir in a good helping of it.  Have a happy and beautiful weekend!


  1. YUM! Beef stew is my favorite dish! And it's so easily customizable - I've used apples and apple cider, baby carrots, pearl onions, and herbes de provence for a French version, but my very favorite is just a basic stew, but use merlot to deglaze your pan. It adds a wonderful depth to the finished product!

  2. That looks delicious! I am almost disappointed to be having dinner at a friend's home tonight, as I am keen to try this one out. There's always tomorrow night.
    Thanks for sharing this, Rhonda. Have a lovely day.
    Tracy (Brisbane)

  3. I prefer to add the celery and carrot after the onions have cooked for a bit - adds a more complex flavour.

    i made the mistake of using a can of condensed soup in a slow cooker meal once - gah. No one liked it.

  4. That looks absolutely scrumptious, yum yum.

  5. What an excellent post - and that meal looks delicious. I am just putting my slow cooker away now as we are heading into salad season here in the UK, with lots of fresh veggies appearing in the garden in the months to come. We love our slow cooker and use it a lot in the cooler months, and occasionally in the summer if we are going to be out for the day and want to come home to a meal.

  6. I usually buy a can of broth, thank you for this encouragement, going to skip it next time! I love your blog btw! You make things so practical and NOT overwhelming.

  7. This looks delicious. I wish I had a slow cooker, but I'm afraid I don't have room to store it. Maybe someday!

  8. Oh my goodness. This just looks so, so yummy. I have been craving savory things, stews & soups like crazy. Must make something like this soon.

  9. That looks delicious!I must try it this way next time as I have never thought to brown the meat first etc.

  10. Oh my making me hungry. that looks so scrumptous, thanks for sharing this recipe, I am gonna try it for sure.
    Thanks and Hugs Barbara a new found friend. ♥

  11. Looks absolutely delicious! I can't wait to try this recipe with the local, grass-fed beef from our farmers' market.

    I've made beef stew before but made the mistake of adding all my beef at once. Thanks for the tip about adding a small portion at a time!

    Mary Ellen

  12. Thanks for posting this, Rhonda Jean! I have a couple of crockpot recipe books and I think about half of the recipes call for canned cream of something soup, which I've been avoiding. Beef stew is one of our favorites.

  13. Rhonda, I too love my crockpot and I use it constantly. We do chicken, pork and about anything you can think of. I've used pork & chicken in this same recipe and it was awesome!

  14. I, too, love my crockpot and use it often. Hubby loves beef stew, so I make it semi-regularly when its chilly here. We also love beef and barley stew (great recipe, very filling and sticks with you). I enjoy making broth (both beef and chicken) and I love the little extra it gives to stew and the way a bone broth will thicken the stew.

    Thanks for all the ideas!
    Rachael (Central Texas)

  15. Good morning Rhonda, I love my crock pot too. Another tip is to keep the lid on and not break the seal of steam until the last hour. Like Emily I deglaze the pan with a splash of wine and, like Paula, I add celery as well as carrot.

  16. Hi. Thanks for your post. I have one small thing to add: I love to make a vegie soup in the pot in which I've browner the meat. It adds a delicious depth to the soup and isn't too much extra work (just chop a few more vegies and add some pulses). Actually, I think that might be tonight's dinner.
    Cate (Melbourne)

  17. I use pretty much the same ingredients as Rhonda, but I don't brown the meat beforehand, instead I toss the (large) cubes of meat through the flour which I have mixed with the paprika (also a touch of brown sugar and some dried herbs) put it in the slowcooker (or crockpot), put the chopped vegetables on top, (I also add small, whole, well-scrubbed potatoes) then add 1/2 cup of red wine and 1/2 cup of chopped tomatoes, add pepper and salt, stir it around a bit, then cook it. If it needs thickening at the end I usually mix up a bit of potato starch with water and stir that it.
    I like doing it this way because there is less washing up at the end of the prep.

  18. So, what time is dinner at your place? I love winter for this reason, yummy casseroles and bakes and bread rolls. Will definitely try this easy recipe soon.

    Cheers - Joolz

  19. I absolutely had to tell you that I just made your buttermilk apple cake (with a gluten free substitute baking mix) and followed your directions for homemade butter....together....goodness it's heaven!!!

    I'm so looking forward to this in the morning with tea!


  20. You must have posted about caramelising the beef before because I remembered the tip and found it really makes a difference; thanks! My mum used to make the most fantastic beef stews but I never got to learn her method because by the time I wanted to know she had dementia and had forgotten how she did it. But every time I make beef stew, I tell her how much I used to love hers. I usually roll the meat in flour or cornflour (cornflour makes a crunchier coating) and then fry it. I also like to add beans (kidney, black eyed, chickpeas etc) to bulk out the meat a bit more.

  21. I'll throw in another tip: I brown my meat before my onions, and use the onions to steam the meat bits from the bottom of the pan. Adding red wine at this point also helps with deglazing.

  22. That's a great recipe, thank you for posting it. I learnt how to cook a gammon joint in the crockpot the other day and the flavour and texture was sensational, so this is another great recipe to add to my collection.

  23. I love my crockpot also - can't figure out how busy people manage without one. I use it for everything from greek leg of lamb to the dog's stew.
    My very professional career focused sister visited us and we had a great time every day. Then she asked me how I was turning out these great meals every night. So I introduced her to the slow cooker.
    It has become her best friend. She recently became president of her professional body in Australia and mum proudly sent me a copy of a magazine with an article about her. When they asked her how she managed home/family and career she raved about her slow cooker. I felt quite proud - for her and being responsible for introducing her to this great kitchen helper.

  24. Yum that looks good Rhonda. I make a similar stew but I like the tip about not adding too much liquid at the start. I think I must do that as my stews tend to end up a bit runny so I have to add flour at the end to thicken. I serve our stews with a big dollop of mashed taters. Bliss. I usually add a tin of tomatoes and a glass of red to my stew which I suppose makes it Italian. I also really LOVE making lamb shanks in the slow cooker in exactly the same way with the same ingredients. You can't beat the taste of the sticky lamb as it falls off the bone!

  25. Thanks for posting this recipe Rhonda. I purchased a crock pot recently and have loved trying out new recipes. As I type away, Moroccan chicken is cooking in my crock pot- to be served with home made bread rolls- yummo!

  26. Thanks for the recipe, it was enjoyed by all here with leftovers for tea tonight. I have made a similar stew in the slow cooker before but didn't brown the meat first. It is still nice but browning the meat certainly adds to the flavour.

  27. Thank you for the inspiration. Even though it is a balmy 80 degrees here in Texas, I made my version of your beef stew. I opted not to add very much paprika as my resident poet does not like it and I added garlic powder, peas and carrots to the beef and onions. The I boiled some noodles and served over that. It was scrumptious! You are right about the carmelization adding more flavor, but I had never thought to add the flour to help it make it's own gravy. Thank you again for your on going inspiration.

  28. Rhoda

    I personally don't eat meat, but my menfolk do. So I made your Crockpot Beef for them. I followed your recipe until you put it in the crockpot - that's when I brought it to the boil on the stovetop for 10 minutes, covered, and then I placed it in my Hotbox for 6 hours - the result - meltingly tender and juicy - and the menfolk said very more-ish. The smell was very deeelicious (the hot box is in my office - we work from home.) Menfolk say a defnite repeat! Can't wait to try it in my soon-to-arrive solar cooker - providing we have a sunny enough day - winter has finally hit Cape Town. I have two photo's if you'd like - just need your e-mail address :-)
    Kind regards


  29. So glad I found this - really wanted to make beef stew tonight and don't have any stock in the house! Looking forward to trying it out - thank you. :)

  30. I made this today and it was fabulous!!! I did have to add more water/flour. But it was amazing. I seasoned with season salt, celery salt, pepper and instead if regular paprika, I used smoked paprika.threw in carrots, potatoes and celery. Best stew my husband has ever had he said. Thank you for sharing this!!

  31. I read this wrong and added 1 cup of flour.. oops! but i compensated with water, oil, and seasonings. turned out great!


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