Beef stew’s flavor depends on finding the right balance of flavors, which means that you will need to know which seasonings to use and how to apply them in your recipe. Below is a look at the best herbs and spices to include in beef stew.
A member of the mint family, thyme has some of mint’s aromatic properties along with a hint of the cooling flavor. In addition, it has a deep earthiness and mild bitterness to enhance its benefits as a savory herb. Thyme’s qualities make it a perfect addition to the other seasonings in a standard beef stew as well as to the beef itself. Thyme can stand up to long cooking times, making it perfect for the extended braising time of a traditional beef stew.
Another mint relative, oregano is known for its bold and almost spicy flavor. Like thyme, it is earthy and it has a camphoraceous quality that makes it an ideal complement to savory dishes. It is one of those herbs that must be used in moderation or it can overpower other flavors in the dish. It pairs well with the strong flavors of the red meat and with the other herbs and spices that typically show up in a beef stew.
Oregano is most often used in dried form rather than fresh; dried oregano has a mellower and more restrained flavor profile and its flavor can last over the cooking time.
A key element in traditional recipes for soups and stews, the bay leaf comes from the bay laurel tree. It is known for giving a piney and slightly minty flavor with a hint of bitterness that strongly enhances the umami taste when used in moderation. Bay leaves are uniquely suited to long cooking times but should be removed before serving the stew as the leaf does not soften and can pose a choking hazard.
Earthy and pungently aromatic, garlic is a powerful enhancer for savory dishes. For many people, it is a staple of stews. It makes a perfect background note for the bright herbs in a beef stew and partners well with onion, the other allium. You can use dried or fresh garlic.
A staple of savory dishes, onions are an essential ingredient for soups and stews. Onions can range in flavor from pungently herbaceous to mild and sweet, and any of the varieties can be used in a beef stew. You will want to add them closer to the end of the cooking time than to the beginning, but you should still give them ample time to cook down and flavor the dish.
Green, white, and yellow onions will all work in a beef stew, and you can use onion powder as an alternative or alongside them.
Dried and ground chili pepper pods are the sole ingredient in paprika. The spice comes in multiple forms including sweet, hot, and smoked. Which one you add to your beef stew is a matter of taste but each of them can enhance its flavor and complement the herbs and other spices.
The celery flavor is a key one in beef stews. You can get it by adding chopped celery leaves and stalks as one of the vegetables in the stew or you can use celery seeds. In either case, the grassy and umami notes of celery will enhance the stew’s savory notes.