Whether you are making a hearty beef stew, or adding additional liquid to make it a soup,there are some easy and basic tips you can use to get the most out of this comfort food.

Stock and Broth

Most of the people I know use water when building their soups and stews. Water is fine, but to add an additional layer of flavor a good broth or stock is necessary.

Broth is usually a more highly seasoned liquid. Think of an onion soup which is essentially a beef broth with the addition of the onions. It is well seasoned and does not have a strong flavor of its own so the onion flavors come through.

Stock, on the other hand has fewer seasonings and a more intense,rich and meaty flavor.

When making a soup or stew either of these options is better that plain water. Stock will give you a much richer and heartier flavor. You can purchase either option at the market, or you can make your own and store it in the refrigerator for up to about 2 weeks, or in the freezer for a couple of months. One of the added bonuses of making your own is that you can control the amount of salt. Did you know that one can of broth from the store has over 9 grams of salt? Not great if you are on a reduced salt diet.

TIP: Pour cooled homemade stock or broth into ice cube trays. Freeze and then remove to zipper bags, returning to the freezer. Now you can drop in a stock or broth cube, or a few, when you decide at the last minute that you want to create a great hearty meal. You get all the flavor of slow-cooked homemade, but without having to make the stock or broth from scratch first, OR using the highly salted ready-made versions.

Meat

You can use whatever cut of meat you like best, but if you want the best flavor to come through in your stew you need to brown the meat first. Oh, I know that you can drop the meat in a crock-pot with veggies, spices, and a can or stock and get a perfectly acceptable stew at the end of the day, but is that really good enough for you and your family when you can make it so much more with a few extra steps.

Browning the meat and including the pan drippings in your stew will add yet another layer of flavor that make you ordinary stew seem like a watered down cousin. Simply, dredge or coat your meat cubes in flour, shaking off any excess. Brown in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable or olive oil with the onions. You can also add chopped celery and carrots to the meat for even more flavor. In the south we call this mix of onion,carrots,and celery, the trinity. We use it everywhere!

Once you have browned the meat on all sides, begin to add your other ingredients. If you are using a crock-pot, add the meat and the pan drippings to the pot and then add the other ingredients.

Time

One of the things that makes a stew so hearty is the long cooking time. You just can't rush a hearty stew, so don't try. If you don't have the time to monitor the pot, use a crock-pot and cook it slowly all day. It is the long cooking time that creates the depth of flavors.

Additions

Adding barley, or rice to a stew adds to the thickness that designates stew. As the stew cooks for hours barley and rice tend to break down and help thicken the liquids while adding yet another subtle flavor.

If you only change one thing in your recipe consider using home-made stock or even a home-made broth instead of water. The difference in taste will surprise you and your family will appreciate the added attention to details that make yours the best stew in the neighborhood.

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