Julie Taiwo Oni knows that some meals are more than just meals–like her late grandmother’s fufu beef stew; years later, Julie still recalls that stew, and how her grandmother always was pairing even during preparation with sips of wine.
Fufu beef stew, also known simply as African beef stew, a hearty African stew that is served typically for major holidays and other festive occasions, especially Christmas, was always more to Julie than just beef stew. For Julie, that stew was representative of the merging of her Nigerian ancestry with her life in the United States, a carryover of African tribal rituals and practices.
Though her paternal grandmother passed away when she was young, it was that beef stew, along with some other memories, such as her grandmother’s penchant for collecting, that lived on.
The very best wine pairings with beef stew may not hold as much cultural significance for everyone, but they can elevate any kind of beef stew in a way you may never have imagined. In this article, we’ll discuss the ins and out of the beef stew, as well as just how to find the very best wine pairings.
Is there a technical way to distinguish stew from soup?
Stew and soup of course share much in common, but most know stew as a richer meal. The differences between stew and soup are a little more specific than that, however. First of all, what they have in common is fairly obvious: both stew and soup contain some more vegetables and or meat/ seafood that’s cooked and served in a broth.
Stews tend to have less broth than soup, but the ingredients themselves are also less finely cut. As opposed to soup, where vegetables and meat are finely cut or diced, a stew usually features chunks of meat and vegetables, usually submerged in just a little liquid, but not completely covered.
Soup is fairly quick to make, but true stews are slowly simmered for a while, often several hours. While the soup is served with a heavy ratio of broth, the liquid in a stew is reduced to almost a gravy and typically served along different sides as well.
What are some good side dishes to serve with beef stew?
While the soup is often served with light fares, such as salad and bread, stew calls for something a little heartier. Some great accompaniments include polenta, mashed potatoes, starchy vegetables like parsnips, rice, couscous, and a more bright and vibrant salad like a tomato salad.
What should I look for in beef for beef stew?
When searching for the best steak, for instance, customers usually prefer the most tender meat, but when it comes to beef stew, you don’t have to shell out for top grade. Because it is slow cooked over a long period of time in liquid, it tends to become tender through the process; while you want a nice flavor, beef stew also suits slightly tougher and less conventional cuts of meat.
If you opt for meat that is inherently tender, with ideal marbled fat you may very well end up disappointed, because the cooking time tends to turn such meat rather tough.
Instead, look for a cut of beef that is a bit more fibrous, to begin with. Here are some characteristics in cuts most desired for beef stew:
- Lean, without the presence of marbled fat. Marbled fat, rather than adding flavor, will simply fall off during the long cooking process for beef stew.
- Meat-heavy in fibrous tissue. Leaner meats contain higher levels of collagen, as opposed to fat, that will be broken down over a long period of time, eventually resulting in a tender result.
- Large cuts. Chunky cuts are actually preferred; they hold up better, become more tender, and produce more flavor.
What are the best cuts of beef for beef stew?
The best cuts of beef are those that incorporate what we’ve just discussed. The good news is that such cuts tend to be affordable and easy to find:
- English Roast or Pot Roast
- Chuck, Chuck Shoulder, Chuck Roast, Top Chuck
- Bottom Round Roast, Rump Roast, Round Tip Roast
Although some also include Top Round, it tends to be especially lean and does not hold up well over time, compared with other options. The very best cut of beef, though is chuck. Chuck stands up the best over time and becomes the most tender. While many of the ones listed above will work, cuts of chuck will produce the most tender end result.
What’s the best way to prepare beef stew?
Beef stew and stew in general for that matter is often prized for being low maintenance. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean you can simply dump chunks of meat and vegetables in a pot and call it a day. In fact, one of the biggest and most common mistakes people make is not searing the beef first. Searing the beef produces a slightly caramelized flavor to the beef enriches the entire stew.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Prepare the meat by searing chunks, in batches, so you don’t cook completely. Once you get a nice sear, move on and slowly add all meat. As it cooks, skim some fat from the top. While you can leave some fat, leaving too much will actually make your stew too thick.
- With an hour to forty-five minutes to go, add vegetables. Though you can add vegetables earlier, adding them later prevents them from getting soggy or losing their flavor.
- Use starchy vegetables, rather than relying on cornstarch or flour to thicken. Adding starchy vegetables, such as potatoes naturally thickens to stew. You actually don’t need it too thick–a thin to medium gravy is just fine.
- Season accordingly. You can actually purchase beef stew seasoning, but if you don’t have that, the following seasons are popular for beef stew: basil, paprika, parsley, rosemary, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper.
What should I look for in a beef stew if I’m ordering it out?
If you’re ordering beef stew out, there are a few things you want to pay attention to. First of all, note what cuts of beef are being used; if it’s not listed it’s likely chuck, but don’t assume. You will also want to look for basic seasonings and flavor profiles. And just read closely: is this a traditional stew, or slow-cooked meat in gravy? What sides does it come with?
What are some variations on a basic beef stew?
The reason we care so much about how we season beef stew, what cuts of meat we use, and our preparation methods is because not only do these factors impact the flavor of the beef stew itself, but also the best wine pairings to go with your beef stew.
While a basic beef stew contains beef, seasoning, broth and root and starchy vegetables, there are some delicious variations you can try, either by making it yourself or ordering out:
- Boeuf Bourguignon: This French stew is cooked in Burgundy red wine and incorporates bacon, tomato paste, and vegetables for a luxurious, rich taste.
- Pot-Au-Feu: Another French classic, this stew typically uses champ and rump roast with fresh herbs, rutabagas, and potatoes. A thick, comfort classic, the fresh herbs brighten, while the two meat cuts add some complexity.
- Pot Roast Stew: Chuck roast is cut into thin strips and given an upgrade with peppercorns and a dry white wine to simmer in. Allspice berries round out the peppery notes.
- Smoky Beef Stew: Smokier flavors marry well with the richness of a beef stew, and add just a little extra note of interest. Smoked paprika, chili powder, and black pepper are teamed up with red cooking wine.
- Coconut Curry Beef Stew: Taking a step away from most beef stews, curries work well and even slightly sweet curries, like this delightful coconut curry beef stew, best served with a side of sticky or Jasmine rice. Cumin, turmeric, and coriander make this curry spicy sweet, and with layers of flavor.
What kind of approach should I have when searching for the best wine pairings with beef stew?
When on the hunt for the best wine pairings with beef stew, you need to keep in mind a few things. First of all, keep in mind that beef, in general, is richer, heavier meat, high on unami and with a strong presence. Unlike light seafood, such as lobster and most sushi, the stew is not delicate and this requires wine pairings that can help lift flavors, but even more so, echo the richness of the stew.
Stew meat itself will be the main consideration, but other flavors can and do make a difference. Many classic recipes include seasonings which amplify herbaceous and even earthy notes. For something a little different, however, such as curries, sweet and spicy flavors will play a role as will smoky elements in a smoky beef stew.
Overall: pair first and foremost with the meat itself, then look for flavor notes based upon the seasonings and base of the sauce you’re using.
Typically, stews use one of three bases with beef: tomato, curry/cream, or broth.
How do I find the best wine with beef stew pairings?
Now that we know the main cuts of beef to use in beef stew, as well as different varieties of beef stew, let’s look at what goes into selecting the best wine pairings.
What color of wine should I select?
If you’ve ever tried wine pairing for other meals, chances are you know the general rule–red wine pairs best with red meats, like beef. Of course, there are many exceptions to this rule, but do you know the reason behind the rule in the first place? The reason why red wines work better than white wines with something like beef stew is larger due to tannins. Tannins provide astringency and bitterness and also are important in terms of complexity. Tannins actually also help tenderize and soften heavier meat, while the more fruity flavor notes complement the fats and richness of the beef.
Should I select a full body or light body red wine?
Beef in general, with some exceptions, calls for a medium to full body red wine. But when it comes to stew, you’re almost always going to want a full-bodied wine. That’s because stew combines heavy vegetables and meat, often in a thicker brother or base, that feels rich but also contains many flavors. Fuller wines match the velvety, indulgent heaviness of a stew and tend to provide a smoother finish.You want your wine to make your stew feel complete and well rounded, and light wines will either become overwhelmed or simply fight too much against the richer flavors of a beef stew. In this sense, avoid red wines like Gamay and Pinot Noir. Instead, look for wines with a full body, such as Bordeaux Blends and Cabernet Sauvignon.
How acidic should my wine be?
You want to look for a wine that’s low in acidities, such as Merlot and Grenache. For stews that have lighter flavors, such as curry, you can also opt for a moderately acidic red wine such as Malbec. Just avoid highly acidic wines. The acid in wine is a natural pair for seafood dishes, which matches the bright notes and actually reduces fishy odors, so low to medium acidic red wines are more suited for a hearty beef stew.
Sweet or dry?
Dry wine is the way to go for a beef stew. Dry wine will pair with the ribs beef flavors and most complement the hardiness and savory notes.
What flavor notes should I look for?
When searching for flavor notes for beef stew with wine pairings, you need to not only keep the meat itself in mind but also the base of the stew, as well as the seasonings and other flavors being incorporated. Chuck beef pairs well with deep fruit flavors–think dark berries, plum, and even other flavors such as cocoa. Beyond that you’ll need to look at the specific kind of beef stew:
- For an herb-based beef stew, look for wines with herbaceous and earthy notes. Pot-Au-Feu and American Beef Stew go well with wines with earthy and herbaceous notes; the problem is, many of these red wines tend to be more light bodied. A medium body red wine, like Cabernet Franc, will work, as will a Rhone Blend.
- For a smoked beef stew, look for a wine like Syrah. Though Syrah is a bit more acidic, the smoky hues with fruity flavor notes work well with a smoked beef stew. Syrah provides complex peppery flavors that both complement and add complexity to a beef stew.
- For a curried beef stew, consider Merlot. Merlot contains sweet notes, such as cherry and plum, sometimes with a hint of cocoa and vanilla. The medium-full body and tannin level and overall complex and bold flavors make it a great match for curries, both sweeter and with more heat. However, more smooth and simple Merlot.
- For an all-around option, consider Cabernet Sauvignon. Want a red wine that will pair nicely with most beef stews? Cabernet Sauvignon is a great option. Classic flavor notes of black cherry and black currant produce and rich, deep red wine with a full body and medium acidity. It complements both chuck beef and also hearty notes in a refined way.
What’s an easy way to summarize how to find the best wine pairings with beef stew?
Your key to finding the best wine pairings with beef stew is to focus on a few primary factors. A medium-full to full body red wine, with low to moderate levels of acidity, is a good option. In terms of flavors, the primary flavors should be rich or dark berries and other fruits. A moderate to a high level of tannins is desirable as well. You want a wine that is complex if at all possible, and for the most part, dry or semi-dry wines make the most sense.
Do you have suggestions for specific wine pairings with beef stew?
- For a curried beef stew, try M&S La Fortezza Merlot 2017. This Merlot comes from Sicily, Italy and presents a smooth, fruity wine featuring plum and dark berries with spices for a little heat. Sophisticated, this is great for the layered sweet and spicy notes and also the richness of a curry beef stew.
- For an herbaceous beef stew, try Darcie Kent Vineyards Cabernet Franc (2015). This Cabernet Franc comes from the San Francisco Bay region and is a balanced blend of dark plums, brighter cherries, and overall fruity flavor, but with tannins that are structured and tree bark for a more earthy note.
- Looking for a crowd pleaser? Try Luc Pirlet Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine will work with most beef stews, but especially for slightly sweeter, tomato-based stews. Dark cherries with cocoa work well with tomatoes, while the long velvety finish matches the body of the stew itself. Present tannins pair well with chuck beef.
Frequently Asked Questions
It is not absolutely necessary to brown the cut of meat you are gonna use for your stew, but it is definitely worth the effort. This step will seal the meat and the caramelized surface will add a deep and rich flavor.
Yes! It is totally fine to put raw meat in a slow cooker with a cold liquid (any kind your recipe needs) and let it cook in 6 or 8 hours in “slow” or “high” temperature.
It is very important to keep an eye on your stew if its one of your first time cooking beef stew in a slow cooker. If the liquid isn’t enough, it can dry and overcook the meat making it tough and dry on the inside, and if the pot is too full of liquid it can spill over.