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Stew-pendous; Perfect beef stew starts with the right cut of meat.

Byline: Barbara M. Houle

In a stew about how to make a good beef stew?

The basics are simple, really. The starting point is selecting the right cut of meat.

The editors of the revised edition of "The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook" (America's Test Kitchen, $34.95) report that after comparing the texture and flavor of 12 cuts of meat, beef chuck roast proved to be the most flavorful, tender and juicy in stew recipes. In their words, "High concentration of intramuscular fat and connective tissue suits it (beef chuck) well for the long, slow, moist cooking stew-making entails."

Another recommendation is that home cooks purchase whole cuts of beef and cut it into small pieces for stew. Or, ask the butcher to do it for you. Prepackaged stewing beef is OK, but it can consist of irregularly shaped pieces from different cuts. This could lead to varying textures and flavors in the dish.

Browning the meat will add another dimension of flavor to a stew. Use a preheated, heavy-bottomed pan such as a Dutch oven, but do not overcrowd the pan with the meat. Brown meat in batches if you can't do it in one shot.

Cooking times will vary from one recipe to another. Reheating a stew is no problem; it only gets better with time. If you refrigerate a stew, you sometimes will find a layer of fat on the top. Skim it off before reheating.

Spicing up a recipe is up to you. It all depends on what you like and don't like. Personally, we sometimes add Hungarian paprika to the pot when we brown the meat. We like the flavor it adds to the beef.

"The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook" takes the guesswork out of cooking. The recipes are delicious; the photographs, mouthwatering. Kitchen tips offered in the book are

a bonus. Plenty of ideas for shortcuts.

Stew is a perfect winter meal, so why not add one of these dishes to your recipe file?

From "The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook" is a beef stew that can be served with crusty bread or mashed potatoes. Make it a day or two before serving because it improves with time.

BEEF STEW

1 3-pound boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1-1/2-inch cubes

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 onions, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup dry red wine

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

2 bay leaves

1-1/2 pounds red potatoes (5 medium), scrubbed and cut into 1-1/2-inch chunks

4 carrots, peeled and sliced thin

1 cup frozen peas

Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Dry the beef with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown half of the meat, about 10 minutes, then transfer to a plate. Return the pot to medium-high heat and repeat with 1 more tablespoon of the oil and the remaining beef.

Add the remaining table-spoon of oil to the empty pot and return to medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly stir in the wine, scraping up any browned bits. Stir in the broth, thyme, bay leaves and browned beef along with any accumulated juices. Bring to a simmer, cover, and transfer the pot to the oven. Cook for 1 hour.

Stir in the potatoes and carrots. Cover and continue to cook in the oven until the beef is tender, about 1 hour. Remove the pot from the oven and discard the bay leaves. Stir in the peas and let stand off the heat for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Beef Barley Stew is a recipe from "Taste of Home Cookbook" (Reiman Media, $29.95). If you're a fan of Taste of Home magazine, this cookbook is for you. The recipes include family favorites from cooks who represent every section of the country.

This recipe from "Taste of Home Cookbook" is an alternative to classic beef stew.

BEEF BARLEY STEW

1-1/2 pounds lean beef stew meat, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 cans (14-1/2 ounces each beef broth)

1 cup medium pearl barley

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram

1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed

1/4 teaspoon pepper

4 medium carrots, sliced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, brown meat on all sides and onion in oil over medium-high heat. Add the broth, barley and seasonings; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat; cover and simmer for 1 hour. Add carrots; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 30 to 40 minutes or until meat and carrots are tender. Add parsley just before serving. Makes 8 servings.

The folks at Martha Stewart Everyday Food e-mailed this recipe:

CHICKEN, CORN AND LIMA-BEAN STEW

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium onions, diced

1 green bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, diced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)

Coarse salt and ground pepper

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

6 plum tomatoes, diced

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1 package (10 ounces) frozen corn kernels, thawed

1 package (10 ounces) frozen lima beans, thawed

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions, bell pepper, thyme, 1-1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste; add chicken, tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce and 1-1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook until chicken is opaque throughout, about 15 minutes. Remove chicken from pot; stir in corn and lima beans and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes.Meanwhile, shred chicken meat with your fingers or a fork. Return chicken to pot and stir to combine. Makes 4 servings.

Old-Time Beef Stew is courtesy of cookbook author and Food Network host Paula Dean.

OLD-TIME BEEF STEW

2 pounds beef stew meat

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cups water

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 clove garlic, peeled

1 or 2 bay leaves

1 medium onion, sliced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Dash ground allspice or ground cloves

3 large carrots, sliced

3 ribs celery, chopped

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Brown meat in hot oil. Add water, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, bay leaves, onion, salt, sugar, pepper, paprika and allspice. Cover and simmer 1-1/2 hours. Remove bay leaves and garlic clove. Add carrots and celery. Cover and cook 30 to 40 minutes longer. To thicken gravy, remove 2 cups hot liquid. Using a separate bowl, combine 1/4 cup water and cornstarch until smooth. Mix with a little hot liquid and return mixture to pot. Stir and cook until bubbly.

Chicken Stew is an Italian-inspired dish created by Giada De Laurentiis of the Food Network.

CHICKEN STEW

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 stalks celery, cut into bite-size pieces

1 carrot, peeled, cut into bite-size pieces

1 small onion, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 (14-1/2-ounce) can chopped tomatoes

1 (14-ounce) can low-salt chicken broth

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

2 chicken breasts with ribs (about 1-1/2 pounds total)

1 (15-ounce) can organic kidney beans, drained (rinsed if not organic)

Heat the oil in a heavy 5-1/2 quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots and onion. Saute the vegetables until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Stir in the tomatoes with their juices, chicken broth, basil, tomato paste, bay leaf and thyme. Add the chicken breasts and press to submerge.

Bring the cooking liquid to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently uncovered until the chicken is almost cooked through, turning the chicken breasts over and stirring the mixture occasionally, about 25 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the chicken breasts to a work surface and cool for 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.

Add the kidney beans to the pot and simmer until the liquid has reduced into a stew consistency, about 10 minutes. Discard the skin and bones from the chicken breasts. Shred or cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. Return the chicken meat to the stew. Bring the stew just to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with a crusty bread.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 28, 2007
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