by Shannon Hayes
When selecting your stew beef, it is important to keep in mind that there are essentially two different types: lean fast-cooking, and juicy slow-cooking. Both types are delicious, and both have a place in the kitchen.
Leaner cuts of stew beef are taken from the round – typically the bottom round, and occasionally the eye round. While these cubes of meat have less marbling, they also don’t contain collagen, which means they will become tender very quickly. They are an ideal choice if you don’t have a lot of time to simmer your meat.
Stew pieces cut from the chuck, shank and brisket are far chewier at the outset. This is because they come from parts of the animal that do a lot of work, so they contain a fair amount of collagen, a connective tissue protein. They also have considerable marbling, so if time is not an issue and a silky, juicy meat texture is your aim, chuck, shank and brisket stew should be your choice.
Whatever your selection, remember how it will impact your cooking as you review your stew recipe. Stew beef from the round will be ready to serve after about 1.5 hours of simmering. If it is cooked much longer, the meat will taste dry. Re-warming a stew made from round meat, however, should not be a problem, provided it is done gently.
Conversely, stew from the shanks, brisket and chuck may take longer to become tender than your recipe suggests. Happily, there is less likelihood that you will over-cook it, as the collagen and marbling will help to keep it juicy. These are the ideal cuts for slow, all-day stews.
I’m fussy about this matter, and since I work in the cutting room at Sap Bush Hollow Farm, I am able to separate the lean fast-cooking stew meat from the juicy slow-cooking pieces, and all of our packages are labeled accordingly. But not every farmer has a butcher who will do this for them. If you don’t know what you have in your stew meat package, simply take care to cook your meat gently and sample often for doneness.
Be patient if it takes longer than your recipe suggests. If it is critical that you know exactly what you are working with, then purchase a bottom round roast, a piece of brisket or a chuck roast and cut the cubes yourself. Then you’ll know exactly what to expect.
And, don’t forget, for some wonderful grassfed stew dishes, order your copy of The Grassfed Gourmet cookbook! To learn more about cooking with grassfed meats, visit www.grassfedcooking.com.
Shannon Hayes writes and works with her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in Upstate New York, where they raise pastured livestock. She is the author of The Farmer and the Grill and The Grassfed Gourmet, as well as numerous articles and essays on food, farming and rural living. To learn more about cooking with grassfed meats, visit www.grassfedcooking.com. To learn more about Sap Bush Hollow Farm, visit www.sapbush.com.