Friends are good.
Friends that share great recipes with you are especially good. My friend Mary texted me the other day and asked, “Are you a fan of Philly cheesesteak sandwiches?” My response was something dorky like, “I am a fan of all sandwiches.” She told me she had stumbled upon a recipe for Philly Cheesesteak Stew and it was fabulous.
I immediately put all of the ingredients on my shopping list and there they sat, waiting for the heavy snow to abate and the flu whatever virus the kids had to depart so I could get to the grocery store.
…and the list sat.
…and it sat some more.
…and it sat a little longer because THE SNOW DID NOT STOP and NEITHER DID THE VIRUS. The idea of the stew was the carrot to get through the weather blahs.
Like a miracle, the snow and virus eventually cleared out, so I bundled up and drove the half an hour to the nearest civilized grocery store with my list in hand. Ingredients procured, I aimed my car for home and arrived in time to start whipping up the stew for dinner. The truth is that no matter what time it had been I would’ve started cooking because I had waited as long as I could to make this stew.
Thank heavens this is a fast dish, because I think I might’ve eaten everything that wasn’t strapped down in the kitchen while it was cooking. The aroma was so enticing, and I’d waited what seemed like an interminable amount of time to make it. In actuality I waited about two weeks, but no one can obsess about a dish quite like I can. It felt like forever.
As I ladled the soup into the small, hollowed out loaves of sourdough bread, I had to smack my own hand to keep it from dunking bread scraps into the silky, onion beef gravy. I draped the provolone slices over the top, popped the pan under the broiler and stood by, spoon at the ready. The cheese bubbled and lightly browned over the stew, I removed the pan from the oven and used a big spatula to transfer one bread bowl and giant buttery crouton to a plate. I couldn’t help myself.
I had to dig in. I HAD TO DO IT. Can you blame me?
Rich beef gravy full of seasoned beef browned in butter, caramelized onions, and sautéed onions in a crusty sourdough bread bowl, topped with cheese, broiled until bubbly, and served with a giant buttery crouton. You don’t mean to say you could’ve resisted this, do you? You’re tougher than me if you could!
- Non-stick is not an ideal cooking surface for browning your beef, caramelizing your onions, and simmering your stew. A regular stainless steel or cast-iron, or enameled surface is preferable because they aid browning and allow little caramelized bits to form on the surface of the pan. This is called ‘fond’. Fond = flavour. When you caramelize the onions, any crusty bits that clung to the surface of the pan will loosen. When you add the flour, it’ll likely gunk up again, but all of this will come off when you add the broth to the pot. There is an unbeatable depth of flavour that comes from those bits that you can’t get for love nor money if you use non-stick!
- You want to slice the beef as thinly as you can. It may help if you break the beef down into manageable pieces (that are about 2 inches wide and half an inch deep) and put them on a plate in the freezer for 15 minutes prior to slicing. The colder beef is firmer which makes it easier to slice super thin.
- When you are browning the beef, it is possible that it will still be a bit pink in the center. That is fine! Remember it will continue to cook in the gravy later.
- Don’t add too much salt before the stew has simmered to the point where it is ready to serve. Taste it before ladling into the bread bowls and adjust it then if necessary. My batch needed almost a full teaspoon of salt at the end. Much of this will depend on whether you used homemade broth, low sodium broth, or regular commercial broth. All of these products have wildly varying sodium levels, it’s best to wait until it’s ‘service ready’ to taste and adjust it.
- Because you are cooking the flour in the onion, mushroom, fat mixture before adding the broth, it is not necessary to heat the broth before adding it to the pot. In fact, you’ll end up with a smoother end product if you have a hot ‘roux’ and a cold broth.
- 2 pounds beef top round
- ¾ teaspoon Kosher or Sea Salt, plus extra
- ¾ teaspoon Cracked black pepper, plus extra
- 1½ teaspoons granulated onion, divided
- 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
- 3 tablespoons canola, vegetable, or other neutral oil
- 4 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 onions, trimmed of both ends, halved, peeled, and cut into thin half moons
- 8-10 ounces white or baby bella (cremini) mushrooms, sliced (*See Notes)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
- 4 cups beef stock
- 4 sourdough bread bowls, centers cut out to within ¾-inch of the bottom and sides and reserved for the crouton
- 4 slices provolone cheese
- Cut the beef round into very thin slices that are about ½ an inch by 2 inches. Spread them out on the cutting board, sprinkle with the salt, cracked black pepper,, ¾ teaspoon of the granulated onion, and 2 of the tablespoons of all-purpose flour. Toss together with your hands to make sure all the beef is evenly coated.
- In a large soup pot with a heavy-bottom, warm 1½ tablespoons of the canola oil over medium to medium high heat. Add the butter in and swirl to melt. Immediately scatter half of the beef (**See Notes) over the hot fat. Move it only enough to get more pieces in contact with the bottom of the pan. You're not going to stir it at this point. Let it cook without disturbing it for 2 minutes. Use a sturdy spoon to stir it and flip the pieces to the best of your ability, cook for 1 more minute, then use a slotted spoon to transfer to a heat safe bowl. Add the remaining oil and another tablespoon of butter as before and repeat the browning process with the rest of the beef. Transfer the cooked beef to the bowl and lightly tent with foil. Return the pan to the heat.
- There should be a decent amount of fat still in the pan. If there isn't, add another teaspoon of butter or oil and toss in the onions along with a pinch of salt and a pinch of cracked black pepper. Drop the heat to medium low and cook the onions, stirring frequently, until they are soft and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Take care not to crisp or burn the onions. If you find they're browning too quickly, lower the heat.
- Stir in the mushrooms with one more pinch of salt and cook for 6 more minutes. Add in the dried thyme and garlic and stir well. When the garlic is fragrant, sprinkle the flour over the surface of the onions and mushrooms. Stir well. It should become very pasty. Raise the heat to medium and let the mixture cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour the beef broth in all at once, stirring constantly, until it is smooth. Raise the heat to medium high and bring to a boil.
- Let it boil for 2 minutes before adding in the cooked beef along with any accumulated juices and the remaining granulated onion. Drop the heat to LOW, once again, and simmer until the stew is thick and the beef is tender. Taste the stew and adjust seasonings, if needed.
- Set your broiler for HIGH. Place the hollowed out bread bowls on a rimmed baking sheet. Butter the cut side of the caps of bread that you cut out of the bowls and set them next to the bowls on the baking sheet. Ladle the stew into the bowls, lay one slice of provolone cheese on top of each one, and place under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned in areas. Use a large, flat spatula to transfer the stew filled bowls to individual serving plates and serve each one with its toasted bread cap.
*If your soup pot has a smaller foot print, you may find it necessary to divide the beef into smaller batches for browning to prevent overcrowding the pan. This is fine! You can still add the fat to the pan as specified in the recipe, and in all likelihood, you will not have to add fat before browning the last batch.