Secret Ingredient Beef Stew

Secret Ingredient Beef Stew

Photo courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers (Morrow Cookbooks)

Have you heard about the Food52 project? Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs started a web-based community where home cooks have a place to shine. They ran weekly recipe contests for a year (hence the “52”) and have recently published The Food52 Cookbook featuring the winners. The folks at HarperCollins Publishers (Morrow Cookbooks) were kind enough to send me a copy of this cookbook to review.

The book contains four sections: Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring. The Winter section, for example, features recipes (selected by the Food52 community) for things like Best Holiday Food Gift, Best Movie Snack and Best Oysters. Each recipe contains information about the cook, tips and techniques from Amanda & Merrill and selected comments from the community about the recipe. After several days of turkey, I decided to try the winner of the Best Beef Stew recipe contest.

Secret Ingredient Beef Stew (answer: anchovies) from SmallKitchCara of Big Girls, Small Kitchen requires some time and planning, but is a rich take on the classic dish. I don’t think I’ve ever made a beef stew without potatoes before so this was a nice, low-carb change of pace. The beef really takes center stage here.

The stew is prepared in several phases and each phase requires some time. First you need to chop all of the vegetables and the meat (unless you are lazy like me and use the mysterious “stew beef”). Next you brown the beef in stages. Then you cook the vegetables. Then you add the liquids. Then you let it cook for 2 to 3 hours. Then you let it cool. Then you refrigerate it so you can skim off the fat (a nice technique, by the way). Finally, you reheat and eat!

Make It Ahead: This stew is more delicious the day after you make it because the flavors have had more time to meld together. I’d recommend making it on a Sunday. Refrigerate overnight, then on Monday all you’ll have to do is reheat. Who doesn’t like a quick, hearty dinner on a Monday?

My Changes: I essentially made half of the recipe in a 4 quart pot. I skipped the mushrooms and used the full amounts of leeks, onions, garlic, carrots and celery to make up for the missing mushrooms. I also cut way back on serving size (see Nutritional Analysis below). After browning the meat, I removed it to a plate lined with paper towels to remove some of the fat. Even after refrigeration I didn’t have much fat to skim off, so I think I would just eat it right away next time. If you use a fattier cut of beef, your mileage may vary.

Nutritional Analysis: This recipe says it serves 8 to 10. I calculated the nutritional information below based on 12 servings and, although it’s low-carb and a good source of Protein, Vitamin K and Vitamin B12, it’s still way too high in calories and saturated fat to be a regular part of my eating plan. I would serve it basically as a garnish over a bit of rice with some winter squash or a big salad to enjoy the richness and wonderful flavors of the stew without overindulging. You could also try using more vegetables and less beef in the stew itself to reduce the calories and fat.


The folks at HarperCollins Publishers (Morrow Cookbooks) have given me TWO copies of The Food52 Cookbook to give away. To enter, simply tell me about a dish you love that is made by (or was made by) a favorite home cook. For example, no one in my family has ever been able to recreate my grandmother’s skillet cornbread (and many have tried, believe me!) The contest ends at midnight Eastern on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2011. The winner, chosen at random, will be announced on Sunday, Dec. 4. You must have a U.S. mailing address to win. Good luck!


Reprinted with permission from The Food52 Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs

This savory, rich stew may be named after one ingredient, but it’s because of a mix of components that it succeeds so well. Tomatoes and tomato paste give it a sunny sweetness, diced veggies lend texture, and red wine and vinegar brighten everything. Anchovies, the “secret ingredient,” are briny and buttery, giving the sauce a smooth, complex finish. We recommend using beef with generous marbling for the best results. SmallKitchCara serves this “over buttery, parslied orzo and accompanied by crusty bread.”

Sauteeing veggies for Secret Ingredient Beef Stew
5 to 5½ pounds beef stewing meat, cut into 2- to 3-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup mixed olive and canola oil
2 leeks, washed well and sliced thinly
1 large onion, diced
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, diced
4 celery ribs, diced
4 ounces white mushrooms, roughly chopped
¼ cup tomato paste
2 anchovies
1 cup red wine
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup canned whole tomatoes with juice
3 to 3½ cups beef broth
3 bay leaves
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup chopped parsley

1. Season the beef with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the oil in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven over high heat and brown the meat in batches, adding more oil as needed. Remove the meat to a plate.

2. Lower the heat and add the leeks, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, and mushrooms. Cook until softened, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and the anchovies and cook for 1 or 2 minutes to melt and distribute the anchovies.

3. Add the beef and its juices back to the pot. Add the wine, vinegar, and tomatoes with juice (breaking them up against the side of the pot as you go) and raise the heat to bring to a boil. Pour in the broth to cover (you may need a bit more than 3 cups). Add 1½ teaspoons salt, the bay leaves, and the thyme and bring to a boil. Simmer, partially covered, until the meat is tender, 2 to 3 hours. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for several hours.

4. When cool, skim off most of the fat from the top. Reheat over low heat, letting the stew simmer for 30 to 45 minutes before serving.

5. Mix in half the parsley and garnish with the rest.

Makes 12 servings
Per serving: 558 calories, 39g fat (14g sat), 125mg cholesterol, 610mg sodium, 10g carb, 2g fiber, 4g sugar, 38g protein

Tips and Techniques
Make this a day ahead–its flavor will improve and you can enjoy the stew without thinking of all the dishes you have to wash.

About the Cook
Cara Eisenpress is the co-author of the blog Big Girls, Small Kitchen and the book In the Small Kitchen (her co-author, Phoebe Lapine, or BigGirlPhoebz as we know her at food52, can be found on page 135 with a recipe for Prosciutto and Fontina Panini with Arugula Pesto). Cara lives in New York City. Her favorite recipe from a cookbook: “The dill tofu from Peter Berley’s Modern Vegetarian Cookbook.”

What the Community Said
pierino: “I’m absolutely down with the anchovy part. It adds a bottom flavor that even anchovy haters (like my sister) can’t detect. It’s one of our secret weapons.”
lastnightsdinner: “I love this. I’ve been playing with adding things like anchovies and fish sauce to beefy dishes for a few months myself, and it really does boost the meaty flavor!”

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of The Food52 Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs from HarperCollins Publishers (Morrow Cookbooks). I also received copies to give away on my blog.


  1. Kristin says

    That looks like amazing beef stew!

    My great-grandmother always made the best fruitcake somehow! I’ve tasted many others, and I can’t even swallow, but somehow my great-grandmother’s was amazing!

  2. epicurean says

    sweetie’s grandma used to make an egg/omlette/souffle dish that he describes as heavenly. he thinks is was baked in a bread pan and sliced. supposedly it was light, airy and yummy, yet also a bit dense and held it’s shape when cut. i have tried and tried… anything sound familiar? it may be that his memory will always trump anything current. hugs

  3. Anne Andrews X-Pickled Steamer says

    Hi, My first time visiting your blog! Great site. I know now I will return. The Project52 is a great creative idea for a book. I hope someday to publish my Great-great Uncle’s handwritten cookbook. Lot’s of work transcribing his handwriting and testing recipes. My favorite is turtle soup where it begins with how to catch the turtle. Not sure I will test that one. LOL He was a chef at Windsor Castle during the reign of Queen Victoria. I wish I had more stories to tell on him. Oh yes, I still make Flat-Tops and I am writing up Kim’s cookbook. I miss HI.

  4. Erin says

    I am intrigued by the beef stew without potatoes. How strong is the anchovy taste? That might hold me back from making it.
    I always loved my mother’s New England clam chowder. I finally asked her for the recipe a few years ago and discovered that her “recipe” was to buy it by the gallon from a local hole-in-the-wall seafood place and then freeze it in small sizes and pull out on a cold winter’s night. I was shocked! So much for that recipe. My best go-to home recipe is my Grandmother’s entire Christmas feast handwritten by her complete with gravy stains. Her turkey directions have never failed me so I never have to stress about how my turkey will turn out.

  5. Micaela says

    for some reason, I can never make my own hamburger patties taste as good or come out as juicy as my dad’s. I stood by his side and watched him make them at least a thousand times but he must’ve had a light touch while seasoning, mixing the meat & forming the patties because his burgers were the best ever.

  6. Donna F. says

    My grandmother used to make the best fried chicken cutlets. They smelled amazing while cooking and tasted incredible. No one has even come close! She must have had a special touch.

  7. Adele says

    My aunt made the best tasting tomato sauce. She used fresh vegetables and fresh herbs from the garden. She made a very large pot of it at once so everyone could enjoy it. I have tried to recreate it, but it just doesn’t seem to taste as good as hers did.

  8. Wendy says

    I love my mother’s recipe for Gazpacho. I have tried to make it according to her recipe but somehow it is never quite the same. I think it is because the ingredients these days are different than they were in the 70’s. Nowadays gazpacho is typically chunky. Mom’s was smooth and she pureed it with white bread so it was almost creamy with the most wonderful medley of flavors. Her special touch was to put chopped cucumber, onion and green pepper on top. A wonderful summery soup.

  9. Wendy says

    Hey Foodie :) I love beef stew. Do you think you could reduce the fat in this recipe by using a leaner cut of beef instead of stew meat? How about using lamb? Any other options?

  10. diabeticFoodie says

    Kristin – I’m with you on family fruitcake. I love my grandmother’s and my mom’s (now, not when I was little!), but find it hard to eat others.

  11. diabeticFoodie says

    Thanks, Anne! It’s so cool that you have your great-uncle’s cookbook. Boy, would I love to have Kim’s mango chicken flat-top right now. Yum!

  12. diabeticFoodie says

    Erin – Do you like dishes that contain Worcestershire sauce? This beef stew tastes like it has a healthy dose of Worcestershire. I love the story about your Mom’s clam chowder!

  13. diabeticFoodie says

    Donna F. – My grandmother made mouth-watering fried chicken too. We’d always go to her house after church on Sunday for fried chicken and homemade cloverleaf rolls.

  14. diabeticFoodie says

    Adele – Your aunt’s tomato sauce sounds amazing. I’m not sure I’ve hit on the perfect tomato sauce recipe either, but I keep trying. Maybe it’s because I don’t have any Italian blood :)

  15. diabeticFoodie says

    Wendy – I’ve never heard of bread in gazpacho – interesting! I think you could reduce the fat in this recipe by using leaner beef, eating a smaller portion and/or increasing the amount of veggies and decreasing the amount of beef. Cook some squash or other winter veggies and think of that as your entree, then serve some of the beef stew as a side dish. A pound of stew beef has about 1000 calories and 78g fat (31g saturated). A pound of lamb has about 1100 calories and 85g fat (37g saturated), so I don’t think switching to lamb would help you fat-wise.

  16. says

    What a beautiful post! I just love my fathers skillet cornbread with black-eyed peas and turnip greens!He too makes the best burgers I have ever tasted! Tender and juicy that taste like no other I’ve ever had! Mother’s specialty is Chicken-fried steak with white gravy made in the renderings of sausage. Merry Christmas Shelby!

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