Growing up, on the rare occasion that my parents went out for the evening, my brother and I would always eat canned beef stew for dinner. We rarely had those kinds of processed foods growing up, so opening up a can of beef stew for dinner felt very novel. I remember thinking it was pretty much the tastiest thing on the planet.
It’s weird how the grass is always greener on the other side. As a kid, I was obsessed with processed food—because it was something I never had. So whenever I’d go over to a friend’s house and they’d have pizza rolls or chips or whatever other food that never made an appearance in my parents’ kitchen, I’d be all over it. Then, I moved away to college, and all I really ate was processed food, and all the novelty quickly wore off. I started to desperately miss the home cooking I grew up with. I think I even tried a can of stew in college and took one bite before throwing it in the trash—it definitely wasn’t the tasty treat I remembered from my childhood.
The first time I made beef stew at home as a newlywed, I realized, “Oh hey! This is what beef stew is supposed to taste like!” And I haven’t bought the canned stuff since. Beef stew sounds like one of those foods that would be complicated and difficult to make, but it’s actually incredibly easy. The key is slow-cooking—either in the actual slow-cooker or on the stovetop. Low and slow cooking gives the stew a roasted flavor and makes sure the meat and veggies are fall-apart tender. And it cooks the gravy up into a thick and smooth sauce that is what dreams are made of. Beefy, gravy dreams.
I tend to swap out the new potatoes that you’ll usually find in beef stew for sweet potato chunks because not only do I like the festive orange color (perfect for October), but I think the touch of sweetness is a really nice balance to the richness of the beef. Sweet potatoes and red meat work incredibly well together.
I personally think beef stew should be served with a slice of sandwich bread slathered in butter—it’s perfect for sopping up all that leftover dreamy gravy. My Canadian husband says the right way to serve stew is with biscuit-style dumplings plopped in it (which sounds delicious, although I’ve never tried it). Whatever you do, promise me you’ll have some sort of bread vessel to scoop up all that leftover deliciousness, okay? No gravy left behind.