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~A Big Batch of Beef Stew -- Eat Some, Freeze Some~

IMG_4541When I pull out my big, 20-24-quart stockpots, it's officially Fall.  Why?  When it's chilly outside, it's time to cook up a storm inside.  Why?  When one lives in the Northeast, it's a wise cook who has a freezer containing some thaw-heat-and-eat meals for those snowy days when a quick trip to the grocery store is not in the forecast.  Yes indeed, when the frost is on the pumpkin, I don't mind spending an afternoon at the stovetop preparing one of the three carnivorous things I cook in big batches (for "freezer meals"): red-meat-based red pasta sauce, chili con carne, and, beef stew.

To sorta quote Mark Bittman (author of How to Cook Everything) "the appliance that can best save money, reduce food waste, and, get home-cooked meals on the table faster, is the freezer". 

IMG_6458Let's begin by discussing the difference between soup & stew:

Soup:  If you've simmered meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables in a pot of seasoned water-, wine-, juice- or milk- based liquid, you've made soup.  Soups can be thin, chunky, smooth, or, if you've thickened it in some manner after the fact (by adding potatoes, rice, beans, vegetables, or, used a mixture of cream or water mixed with cornstarch, flour or eggs), thick, meaning: having a stew-like consistency.  Soups in general (there are exceptions) tend to be refined and light tasting, using shreds of meat and/or small diced ingredients, or, pureed to a thin or thick, smooth consistency.  In many cases they can be prepared in less than 1-1 1/2 hours, and sometimes, as little as 15-30 minutes.  Soups can be served as an appetizer, side-dish, main course or dessert, but, are always, without exception, served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon.  

Stew:  If you've cooked/sautéed your meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables in a small amount of seasoned oil, butter or fat, then added just enough of flour and liquid or thickened liquid to it to bring it to an almost gravy-like consistency, you've made a stew.  Stews tend to be full of chunky ingredients and full of bold herb and/or spice flavors.  Stews are hearty and filling and are almost always served as the main course.  Stews, because they require a longer, slower cooking time than a soup, sometimes 3-4 hours or longer, often in a tightly-covered vessel, are great for tenderizing tough cuts of meat.  Stews, while usually served in a bowl, can be spooned over a starch (couscous, rice, potatoes, egg noodles, etc.) and turned into a knife and fork meal.

IMG_6525What to consider before beginning to cook in big batches:

If you've ever envisioned yourself being a restaurant chef, be careful what you wish for:  the pots are big, the load is heavy.  There's more.  As a home cook, in terms of slicing, dicing, chopping and mincing, you won't have any line cooks to perform those menial tasks for you.  Don't get me wrong (I'm not trying to talk you out of this), big batch cooking isn't necessarily hard, but, more-often than not, it is time consuming -- in many instances, it's prudent to do the majority of the prep work on one day and the actual cooking the next, so, be sure to schedule enough time.  Past that, it's also necessary to invest in some big-batch restaurant-sized equipment.  When armed with the right recipe, the right mindset, and the right equipment, the big batch reward is great. That said, preparing a big batch of almost anything is different from regular cooking.  Read on:  

Doubling or tripling solid or liquid ingredients measured in weight or volume is the easy part -- simply get out your calculator and "do the math".  Fats used to coat the bottom of a pot or pan will increase just enough to coat the bottom of a bigger pot or pan.  Wine or alcohol used to deglaze a pot or a pan, will increase slightly, by about one-quarter, meaning:  1 cup wine is now 1 1/4 cups wine.  All that said, more-often-than-not, when converting a regular recipe to a big batch, adjustments to the seasonings need to be made, meaning: unless you are following a recipe that is specifically written for a big batch (like my recipes are), start by adding slightly less than the math calculations suggest (example: if doubling a recipe, instead of jumping from the called for 1 teaspoon salt directly to 2 teaspoons salt, start by adding 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and, if tripling a recipe, instead of jumping from the called for 1 teaspoon salt to 3 teaspoons salt, add 2 teaspoons -- it's a not-overly-seasoned, but, adequately-seasoned starting point).  After that, taste, as soon as you can and as often as you can along the way.  You can always add more spices, you can't remove them.  In terms of time and temperature when doubling or tripling a recipe, while the temperature will remain the same, the timing will not -- more food will take slightly longer to cook (up to one-third longer, meaning: expect 3-6 minutes to

To cut down on mishaps that can cause a voluminous, sometimes expensive, list of ingredients from going to waste, as mentioned above, it's super-important to invest in the proper large-capacity equipment.  Why?  A pot or pan that is even slightly too small will cause a boil over, a spoon or spatula without a long enough handle can cause a serious burn to the skin, and, while your trying to clean up the hot mess or dress the wound, the food can overcook, scorch or burn. In all seriousness, if you don't have access to the equipment, don't undertake the task.

To make a big batch of my old-fashioned beef stew:

IMG_6462For prepping, dredging & lightly-browning the beef:

7 1/2-8  pounds 3/4"-1"-cubed beef chuck roast or chuck steak, from 1, 9-10 pound chuck roast or 3-4 large chuck steaks

1  tablespoon sea salt

1  tablespoon coarse-grind black pepper

1  cup Wondra quick-mixing flour for sauces and gravy

8  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons vegetable oil

IMG_6492For preparing the stew base:

2-2 1/2  pounds 3/4"-1" chopped yellow or sweet onion

2-2 1/2 pounds 3/4"-1" chopped white button mushroom caps

1  cup port wine

5  quarts beef stock, homemade or unsalted store-bought stock

2  12-ounce cans tomato paste

6  packets Herb-Ox granulated beef bouillon

"the seasonings", aka, 1 tablespoon each:  garlic powder, dried parsley flakes, rosemary leaves and thyme leaves, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper, and, 6 whole bay leaves

IMG_6540For the add-in vegetables:

3-3 1/2  pounds peeled and 3/4"-1" coined carrots

1 1/2-2  pounds 1/2" sliced celery 

2  10-ounce bags finely-shredded green cabbage

6  pounds peeled and 3/4"-1" cubed gold potatoes

1/2-3/4  cup minced fresh parsley, for garnishing soup

6a0120a8551282970b0240a487968f200c 6a0120a8551282970b0240a487968f200c 6a0120a8551282970b0240a487968f200c~Step 1.  Using a large chef's knife, cube the beef as directed, discarding any large fat pockets you will find along the way.  To dredge the beef, place the flour, salt and coarse-grind black pepper in a 2-gallon food storage bag.  Toss to incorporate the salt and pepper throughout the flour.  In three batches, add the beef cubes to the seasoned flour, tossing to coat the beef cubes on all sides after each addition.

IMG_6475 IMG_6475 IMG_6475 IMG_6475 IMG_6475~Step 2.  In a 20-24-quart stockpot, over low heat, melt the butter into the oil.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Add all the dredged beef cubes. Using a long-handled slotted spatula, to keep the meat moving around, sauté until ever-so-slightly-browned and swimming in a flavorful gravy, about 12-15 minutes.  Use the slotted spatula to transfer the beef to a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole, leaving most of the flavorful brown fond in the bottom of pot.  Set beef aside.

IMG_6487 IMG_6487 IMG_6487 IMG_6487~Step 3.  Add the chopped onions and chopped mushroom caps to the stockpot.   Give them a thorough stir and continue to sauté, over medium- medium-high until onion is soft and translucent but not browned or browning, and mushrooms have lost about three-quarters of their volume and exuded almost all of their earthy flavor into the mixture, 12-15 minutes -- oh yum.

IMG_6508 IMG_6508 IMG_6508 IMG_6515 IMG_6515 IMG_6515 IMG_6515 IMG_6535~Step 4.  Add the port wine.  Using the spatula, continue to sauté, stirring and scraping the bottom and sides of the pot with spatula until all of the luscious brown fond has released itself into the mixture, 1-2 minutes. Continue to simmer another 1-2 minutes, perhaps 3.  Don't rush it. Return the beef to the pot. Add and stir in the beef stock, tomato paste, granulated bouillon and seasonings. Reduce heat to a gentle, steady simmer, and continue to simmer, uncovered, 1 hour.

IMG_6543 IMG_6543 IMG_6543 IMG_6543 IMG_6543 IMG_6543 IMG_6543~Step 5.  Increase the heat to medium-high.  Add and stir in the coined carrots, sliced celery and shredded cabbage.  When the mixture returns to a simmer, reduce heat to a gentle steady simmer and continue to simmer, uncovered, 12-15 minutes.  Use this time to peel and chop the potatoes.  Add and stir in the potatoes.  Return to a gentle-steady simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, an additional for 45-60 minutes, until carrots, celery and potatoes are all perfectly-cooked through.  Remove from heat, cover pot and allow to steep for 1-2 hours prior to serving, or, portioning into freezer-and-microwave-safe food storage containers.  Refrigerate containers of soup prior to freezing.

A perfect stew in every way -- 18 quarts of future meal goodness: 

IMG_4560A Big Batch of Beef Stew -- Eat Some, Freeze Some:  Recipe yields 18 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2-gallon food storage bag; 20-24 quart stockpot, preferably stainless steel; long-handled slotted spatula; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; 1-cup measuring container; vegetable peeler; long-handled slotted spoon; soup ladle 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4b106d2200d-800wiCook's Note:  If you take the time to compare today's recipe for big batch beef stew with my regular recipe for ~ Old-Fashioned Beef Stew with Carrots & Potatoes ~, you will notice the adjustments I made to volumes, seasonings, and, cooking times.  Experts will tell you baking is a science and cooking is not.  While true for weeknight cooking -- not true for big batches.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)


Elaine -- Yes, I did tell you that, and, you should just straight divide the recipe to make 1/4 of the quantity. The stew will come out great. You are not increasing the quantity, you are decreasing, so you will be fine. In my post, I explained, generally speaking, how to take a recipe from a small batch to a large batch. Since my big batch is seasoned accordingly, dividing by four will be close to, if not 100% spot on.

Hi Mel!
This stew is SO amazing. I just printed off the recipe so I can make it this weekend. I think you told me that I could just straight divide the recipe to only make 1/4 of the quantity,but when I was just reading through your notes you mention about not adding as much of some seasonings when you're increasing the quantity. I need some guidance before I start doing my math to make this wonderful meal!

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