Brown gravy beef stew is a rich, hearty dish perfect for any night of the week. Big chunks of beef simmer in thick gravy with plenty of vegetables to create a decadent meal in a bowl. Beef stew meat tends to be tough, but simmering it slowly in the gravy transforms those tough chunks into tender slivers that melt in your mouth.
Trim excess fat from the beef with a sharp knife, and chop it into 1-inch square cubes. Larger cubes may not cook all the way through, increasing the risk of foodborne illness.
Drizzle a little oil to a large pot, and turn the heat to medium. Warm the oil until it shimmers, and brown the meat a few pieces at a time in the hot oil. Avoid crowding the pan, or else the beef will just steam and not develop a crisp exterior. Drain the beef cubes on a paper towel to remove excess oil.
Chop a small onion and add it to the pan, stirring to coat each piece with oil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the onion for 3 to 5 minutes, or until it turns golden brown.
Add a spoonful of butter, if desired, to the browned onions, and allow it to melt in the bottom of the pan. You can also add another tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle an equal amount of flour over the melted butter, and whisk to form a thin paste, known as a roux. Whisk the roux constantly for a few minutes, until it turns light brown in color.
Pour a small amount of beef stock into the pan, and whisk vigorously to thin out the roux. Once the mixture begins to bubble, pour the remainder of the beef stock into the pan. Bring the liquid to a full boil, and allow it to cook until it is thick enough to coat the back of a clean spoon. It takes approximately 2 tablespoons of roux to thicken each cup of liquid.
Toss the meat cubes and a few mixed vegetables into the gravy, and cook over medium heat for 45 minutes. Cubed potatoes, chunks of carrots and bits of celery are traditional beef stew ingredients, but feel free to add whatever vegetables you like. Add the ones that take the longest to cook, such as the potatoes, to the pot first, staggering the addition of the remaining vegetables to prevent overcooking.
Pull a cube from the stew after 45 minutes, and insert a meat thermometer into the center to test for doneness; if it registers at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit, your stew is ready to serve. If the meat is not done, cook for an additional 15 minutes.
Slow Cooker Method
Cube the beef, and chop potatoes, carrots and a small onion into similar-sized chunks, then place the vegetables directly into the slow cooker. The beef and dense vegetables require longer cooking times and should go in first.
Dust the beef cubes with plain white flour and brown in a pan with a small amount of oil. The flour helps thicken the gravy in the finished stew. Transfer the beef to the slow cooker, and deglaze the bottom of the pan with a cup of beef stock, gently scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any remaining bits of beef. Add the deglazing liquid to the slow cooker.
Pour enough beef stock into the crock pot to just cover the meat and vegetables, and whisk in two packets of instant brown gravy mix. This powdery substance is normally mixed with cold water in a pot and thickens when it comes to a boil, but it will thicken slowly as the stock heats up.
Cook covered on high heat for 6 hours, remove the lid, and add in additional vegetables, such as broccoli, peas or celery. The softer vegetables will break down if added too soon. Cook for 1 more hour, and check the meat for doneness before serving.