Best Beef Stew

So for me, beef stew is like macaroni and cheese — I never met a recipe I wasn’t a little bit tempted to try, JUST in case it might be better than the other million recipes I already have. So when the practically perfect folks at Cooks Illustrated promised that this particular one was the Best Beef Stew…well, all I needed was a snowy Sunday with nothing else on the horizon and I was ready to roll.

Now truth be told, I am a bit of a skeptic when it comes to “new” beef stew recipes. I’ve been around the beef stew block enough times that I need something pretty convincing in the latest recipe to get me on board for real, since beef stew is a major commitment. It involves chopping. It involves both searing and simmering. It involves many, many hours on the stove, and as my Cooks Illustrated friends pointed out, it can often smell better than it ultimately tastes. However, this latest recipe did come through for me in terms of the secret ingredient.

Are you ready?

Can you HANDLE it?

Okay, here goes.


No, I am not kidding. No, I have not finally lost my mind due to bacon overdose. Anchovies. It has an actual scientific explanation that goes with it, something to do with glutamates. All I know is that Cooks Illustrated is my Holy Grail of recipes, and if they say anchovies, I am down with the anchovies. And sure enough — the stew tasted richer and more intense…and not a bit like fish. Promise.

So if you, like me, are always on the hunt for the next best beef stew, give this one a try and don’t be afraid of the anchovies. Sometimes you just have to roll the dice!

Recipe from Cooks Illustrated


Best Beef Stew
  • 2 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 4 anchovy fillets , finely minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 boneless beef chuck-eye roast (about 4 pounds), trimmed of excess fat, cut into 1½-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion , halved and cut from pole to pole into ⅛-inch-thick slices (about 2 cups)
  • 4 medium carrots , peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
  • ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 ounces salt pork , rinsed of excess salt
  • 1 pound Yukon gold potatoes , scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1½ cups frozen pearl onions , thawed
  • 2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin (about 1 packet)
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup frozen peas , thawed
  • Table salt and ground black pepper
  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine garlic and anchovies in small bowl; press with back of fork to form paste. Stir in tomato paste and set mixture aside.
  2. Pat meat dry with paper towels. Do not season. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over high heat until just starting to smoke. Add half of beef and cook until well browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total, reducing heat if oil begins to smoke or fond begins to burn. Transfer beef to large plate. Repeat with remaining beef and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, leaving second batch of meat in pot after browning.
  3. Reduce heat to medium and return first batch of beef to pot. Add onion and carrots to Dutch oven and stir to combine with beef. Cook, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits, until onion is softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until no dry flour remains, about 30 seconds.
  4. Slowly add wine, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits. Increase heat to high and allow wine to simmer until thickened and slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth, bay leaves, thyme, and salt pork. Bring to simmer, cover, transfer to oven, and cook for 11/2 hours.
  5. Remove pot from oven; remove and discard bay leaves and salt pork. Stir in potatoes, cover, return to oven, and cook until potatoes are almost tender, about 45 minutes.
  6. Using large spoon, skim any excess fat from surface of stew. Stir in pearl onions; cook over medium heat until potatoes and onions are cooked through and meat offers little resistance when poked with fork (meat should not be falling apart), about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatin over water in small bowl and allow to soften for 5 minutes.
  7. Increase heat to high, stir in softened gelatin mixture and peas; simmer until gelatin is fully dissolved and stew is thickened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste; serve.


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  1. Kate says

    This sounds fantastic! It would warm the tummy and take the chill off. Giving the anchovies a try would be a first for me…(I always picked them off the pizza that Dad ordered!) I can do it. This sounds too good to pass up.

  2. Lisa says

    Lovely! I'm a fan of CI and your site! One question…I couldn't find the notes you mentioned in the recipe ingredient list; did I overlook them? Thanks for the great recipe.

  3. Chocolate Shavings says

    That stew sounds wonderful – and the great thing with anchovies is that it really does intensify flavor but doesn't need to taste fishy (for those who might be scared of anchovies!) the same as in a good Caesar salad sauce! I love the photo too, comfort food at its best!

  4. Kate Morgan Jackson says

    Sorry about that — the notes were from CI and go as follows: use a medium bodied wine like a Pinot Noir, and try to find a piece of beef that is well marbled – if it is too lean it will come out a little dry. Have fun! And great point about the Caesar Salad!

  5. jules says

    once again fabulous, recipe, instructions and just the way you put everything together….mouthwatering for sure !!!

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  7. DDFerrari says

    Anchovies are one of the ingredients that ad a “Umami” quality to food, as is the tomato paste in this recipe. Umami basically means “savory”, which has been added as the fifth of the human taste senses, along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter. These ingredients add a richness to food without imparting their own flavor. I can’t remember the other, but I think fish sauce and mushrooms are part of the list.

    Anyway, I made this stew tonight and it really is awesome. I don’t think it makes sense to change a lot of a recipe and then rate it as if it’s the original (like: ‘I used chicken instead of beef, subbed beer for the wine, and added spinach”). I made a few minor but sensible subs: bacon instead of salt pork; red potatoes instead of Yukon; skipped the anchovy but doubled the tomato paste to make up for it. That’s it- it’s totally worth the effort!

    • DDFerrari says

      BTW- the initial beef cooking time may vary by HOURS, depending on your oven and the cut of beef, so I would be sure that the meat has passed the hard stage (yeah- sometimes it gets stiff before it relaxes) before you add your veggies. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself re-doing the veggies as they have disintegrated into mush. It doesn’t hurt the flavor, but the idea was to have some color like the pic- brown, orange, green and white, not just mushy brown.

      • Kate says

        Wow! Thanks for all this great info…and your nice words about the stew. It’s one of my all-time faves!


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