This is one of the many stew variations that cowboys used to eat back in the day. The stew is easy to make, and uses basic ingredients and spices from your pantry.
- 2 ½ lbs. beef forequarter chunks
- 2 onions
- 6 medium size potatoes
- 1 can baked beans (15 ounce) or 1 ½ cup fresh pinto beans soaked for ½ hour then boiled until just tender
- 1 can tinned tomatoes or 4 large fresh tomatoes cut into chunks
- 1-2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons flour
- chunk of bacon fat or around 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- spices and herbs of your choice
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat dutch oven and drop in bacon fat (if you don’t have bacon fat use 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, but the traditional use of bacon fat added flavor).
- Add beef chunks in three batches, over a high heat, and turn to cook evenly so they become nice and brown. If you add too many pieces at once it reduces the heat and the moisture in the meat will cause it to boil in the juices instead of frying and browning – that’s why you add in batches and once done remove each batch from the heat before adding the next batch. If you do get too much liquid remove the meat, drain off the liquid and reserve it to go back into the stew later. Wipe out the pot and add more bacon fat, allowing it to sizzle before adding the meat.
- Remove beef chunks, leaving behind the fat that has come from the meat.
- Add the onions and herbs and spices and sauté until just a light gold over medium heat – around 5 minutes – making sure to stir to release the onion and seasoning flavors.
- Remove onions and from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside in a dish.
- Add the potatoes that have been peeled and cut into chunks – around 8 pieces per potato and brown the outside, turning to cook evenly.
- Once potatoes are golden return meat and onions to the pan and stir for 1 minute, while you add salt and pepper.
- Add the can of tomatoes or fresh tomatoes.
- Add the can of beans or the fresh cooked pinto beans
- Add 1 cup of water and reduce to a simmer, allowing the stew to cook for around 45 minutes or until the beef is tender, stirring occasionally.
- Add two tablespoons of wheat flour mixed to a thin paste with a cup of water, stirring in to thicken the sauce.
- Check for seasoning – you may want to add more salt or pepper at this stage.
- Reduce heat and simmer very slowly for another 10 minutes or so to allow flavors to mingle.
Cowboys would have eaten their stew with sourdough bread or hard tack, but if you prefer serve yours with rice, couscous or quinoa.
There are no really hard and fast rules for making cowboy stew – cowboys used what they had available – so if there wasn’t beef they may have shot a rabbit or some squirrels to add to the stew.
The ratio of onion, potato, and beans to meat would also have varied depending on how much of each ingredient was available. The only thing a cowboy would not go without was his strong coffee to get him ready for another day on the range!
As a child I wanted to grow up and marry a farmer… simply because it was so different from my life right on the shores of the ocean. Well, I didn’t marry a farmer but a surfer instead. The urge, however, to grow stuff and make great food for a big family never left. We are on acreage with a sea view and easy access to fresh caught crayfish and other seafood – the best of both worlds. As an artist and writer I enjoy creating new recipes, tweaking traditional ones, and sharing the results not only with family and friends, but online.