Slow cooker beef stew

I confess, I have never cooked a stew before. Nor used a slow-cooker. Nor followed a recipe successfully. But here is a recipe, adapted from Delicious, and for a slow-cooker (instead of an oven).

Serves: 10-20 people, depending on size of serve. It makes approximately 5.5L of stew.
Cost: (excluding paprika, thyme, sage, bay, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and chicken stock which were already in the pantry) $21.30
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Panfrying time: 20 minutes, depending on size of your fry pan and the size of your meat batches
Kick back and wait time: At least 2 hours, but I let it stew for 6 hours.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbs chopped thyme
1 tbs smoked paprika
1 sage leaf
2 fresh bay leaves (you can use dried)
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
4 carrots, cut into chunks
6 potatoes, cut into smaller chunks
1.5 kg lean beef chunks
100g pancetta, diced
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
800g tinned cherry tomatoes
800g tinned beans (I used chickpeas and cannellini beans)
2 cups chicken stock

1. Marinate beef with thyme and smoked paprika. I would add another 2 cloves of minced garlic to the marinade.

Marinating meat/ For best flavour absorption/ Best done overnight

1. Caramelise onions and garlic. This might take a while. You want a golden colour, and the onions almost melted. You want the onions to be darker, much darker, than the ones in the photo. I was impatient.

Spread onions out well/ Increase surface area/ Helps browning process

2. Fry up the pancetta. Don’t take shortcuts like I have. Throw those onions into your slow cooker, then fry your pancetta separately so as to not overcrowd the pan. You want pancetta is to crispy and fragrant. Again, I make the mistake of not thinking things through and overcrowd the pan. The pancetta doesn’t end up crispy at all, it just wilts. Still tastes good, but not what the stew is after.

Crispy pancetta/ There can be no substitutes/ And take no shortcuts
3. Toss in a can of cherry tomatoes. Squash ’em a bit for their juices. Chuck that in your slow cooker too. Or just pour the tinned tomatoes straight into the slow cooker.

Cherry tomatoes/ Squish those juicy red fruits good/ Heh, that'll learn them

4. Throw in a bay leaf and sage leaf as well. You can switch the slow cooker on and get the temperature going. It takes a while.

Add those herby leaves/ A small volume of stew base/ Watch it fill the pot

5. Flour beef.

Add flour to beef/ Don't be shy, you can add lots/ It will thicken stew

6. Brown beef in batches. Browning adds more flavour. Chuck the batches into the cooker, taking care not to throw in too much oil (but this doesn’t bother me. You can scoop oil and impurities out at a later stage.)

Delicious brown bits/ Make them by frying flour/ Scrape, and add to stew

7. Cut some spuds and carrots. Throw those in too.

Carrots and taters/ Starting to look like a stew/ Now we are talking

8. Wait 6 hours, or however long you want to wait. But I suggest a minimum of 2 hours. It helps if you don’t lift the lid every half hour. (I gotta kick that habit.)

Put lid onto pot/ Let it simmer undisturbed/ Twenty minutes in

Compulsive mixing/ Breaks up all the mushy beans/No! Don't do it, kids!

9. I added beans waaaaay to early and they became mushy. If you’re using tinned beans, add them 20 minutes before serving. If you’re using dried beans which have been soaking overnight, I think you can add those 90 minutes before serving.

In hindsight, I think this stew can lose the beans (or add beans when the stew is almost done), more smoked paprika and more garlic. It’s not bland, but it can do with a kick. Also, don’t stir too often, it makes the potatoes break up and your stew cloudy.  I will have to try this recipe again, or make it even simpler.