How to make the perfect stew

For this time of the year, a stew is not only one of the tastiest dishes to keep you warm, but also very affordable to prepare. But not everyone is confident enough to prepare this South African favourite. Mount Nelson hotel’s chef Dion Vengatass gives us his tips to make a winning stew this winter.

According to Vengatass, stews are one of the easiest dishes to prepare. You basically throw all the ingredients into a pot and slowly simmer until all the magical flavours amalgamate into a hearty meal.

“It seems to be a difficult procedure for the average house wife, but it’s not. I have a few basic rules to stick to and by following them, you will never go wrong,” says Vengatass.

1. Get the right cut. Always use a cheap cut of meat that has a good amount of bone to meat ratio (70% meat and 30% bone).Cuts from the chuck, brisket, rib, neck, tail, cheek are the best types to use. These cuts have the perfect amount of bone. Besides the cheek, they are all also fatty enough to withstand the long cooking time. The flavour from these cuts is phenomenal. That deep beef rich aroma and texture comes through like no other cut I’ve used. Always ask your butcher to cut them into 4x4cm pieces and to take of most of the chew sinew (that’s the tough connective tissue that does not break down during cooking).

2. Brown in batches. Always brown your meat first. You should do it in batches not all at once, or it tends to boil as opposed to caramelize. This sets off a flavour base for your stew. The caramelization that occurs from the natural sugars in the meat, gives it that tasty meat flavour for the perfect stew taste.

3. Get the right aroma. Use aromatics like carrot, celery, leek, garlic and onions as the base of your stew.

4. Deglaze your pot. Deglazing is a cooking technique for removing and dissolving browned food residue from a pan to make a sauce. This is used to accompany your meat. For a stew you will need to deglaze the pot after the meat is browned and the aromatics are added. For this you will need to add a liquid like wine, stock, water etc. to the pot in order to lift all that flavour that has stuck to the bottom of the pot.

5. Throw in a bouquet. You need to make a bouquet garni which basically consists of thyme, rosemary, black peppercorns, bay leaves, parsley and it all gets tied together with butchers string, and put into your stew.

6. Throw in some flavour. For the next step you need a flavour stock or stock cubes if you prefer. This is the liquid that brings all the flavours together.

7. Dice it up. Use diced onions in the stew to thicken it not flour or artificial thickeners, you end up with a better stew.

Time to put these steps to the test. Below is a recipe for a basic beef stew.You can chop and change ingredients as you like. Just follow the seven guidelines and you will be safe.

Beef stew


2kg beef chuck bone cut into 4×4 cm pieces

1ea carrot peeled, washed and small diced

2ea celery stalks trimmed, washed and small diced

1ea leeks, cleaned, washed and sliced

4ea onions peeled and small diced

4ea medium fluffy potatoes peeled and quartered

4ea baby cabbage washed and cut in half

4ea garlic cloves chopped

1ea bouquet garni (as described above)

4lt beef stock

500ml red wine

100ml vegetable oil

100g tomato paste


In a large pot on a high heat, add the oil and brown the meat in batches.

Stir in the tomato paste and fry until it is cooked.

Add the aromatic vegetables and stir vigorously to coat all the vegetables with the tomato paste.

Deglaze with the wine and reduce to a medium heat. Scrape the entire residue from the base of the pot.

Place the rest of the ingredients and turn to a lower heat.

Cover the pot and let it gently simmer until the meat is tender and the potatoes are cooked.

Gently stir occasionally to make sure that it does not stick or burn in pot.

Remove the bouquet garni.

Check seasoning and allow your pot to stand for 30 minutes before serving.


Quick tip: Stews are best made in the morning and reheated for dinner.