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
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 children2 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!