The process of stewing, or braising, in a microwave seems like a mystery to some people. They do not understand how a less-tender type of meat can become tenderized with such a fast-cooking appliance.
The secret to tender braised meats is as old as conventional cooking--turn down the heat. With conventional cooking, you simmer a beef stew for several hours to slowly break down the tough muscle and connective tissue. Similarly, with the microwave, you use medium low setting (30% power), which extends the cooking time and allows the meat to gradually tenderize.
Will the extended microwave time be faster than conventional cooking? When comparing the microwaved stew recipe below with a conventionally cooked stew, the microwave time savings was about one-third. Although a cooking time of about 1 1/2 hours seems long by microwave standards, the stew needs only an occasional stirring, and you can be sure that it won't stick and burn to the casserole dish. Also, by using the technique of stirring the beef cubes into a richly seasoned brown sauce, you can omit the lengthy conventional step of prebrowning each piece of meat in a separate skillet on the range top.
Several Power Settings
These days, almost all microwave ovens have several power settings, and 30% is a popular one because it is also the power setting often used for defrosting. On standard 650- to 700-watt ovens, the medium low setting corresponds to about 200 watts. If your oven is lower than 600 watts, you can use a medium (50% power) with about the same results.
The Beef Stew Carbonnade recipe below is an adaptation of Belgium Beef Stew, which takes 2 1/2 hours of conventional simmering, after the meat has first been sauteed to brown it. This stew traditionally teams bacon and beer as savory accents for the beef, and we have added fresh mushrooms for more chunky texture. Do not worry if the original brown sauce seems a little thick. As the beef cubes and vegetables cook in the sauce, their juices thin the stew a little, while adding flavor.
If you wish, you can use this general technique for your favorite beef stew. However, this recipe is for about the largest volume of stew recommended for microwaving. Generally, stew recipes based on more than 3 pounds of meat cook more efficiently for several hours in a slow conventional oven, with occasional stirring.
For Better Leftovers
If this recipe for 6 to 8 servings seems large for you, remember how well beef stew reheats in the microwave--the leftovers are just as good, if not better, after 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator. In fact, if you are planning for guests, you might prefer to make this ahead of time, to save time and effort at the last minute.
When freshly made, this beef stew can stand, covered and in a warm place, for up to 1/2 hour while you microwave parslied potatoes as a traditional and tasty accompaniment. A colorful fresh tomato salad and favorite bread complete this main course.
You can substitute 3 pounds of well-trimmed boneless chuck roast, or rump roast for the round, if desired. Use regular beer, not light, for more flavor. Because of the beef bouillon granules in this recipe, no additional salt is needed.
BEEF STEW CARBONNADE
1/2 pound bacon (about 10 slices)
1/3 cup flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons instant beef bouillon granules
2 (12-ounce) cans beer
3 pounds boneless top or bottom round roast, trimmed of any fat and cut into about 1 1/2-inch cubes
3 cups thinly sliced onions
1 pound small whole mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
With scissors, snip bacon into squares over 3-quart casserole. Microwave on HIGH 8 to 10 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes, until squares are crisp and browned. With slotted spoon, remove bacon pieces to paper towels and reserve.
Whisk flour, brown sugar, garlic, black pepper and beef bouillon granules into bacon fat in casserole (there should be about 1/2 cup drippings). Microwave on HIGH 2 to 3 minutes, until hot and bubbly, then whisk in beer until smooth. Microwave on HIGH 8 to 12 minutes longer, to make smooth, thickened brown sauce.
To sauce, add beef cubes, onions and mushrooms. Cover casserole with lid or plastic wrap, turning back at one edge to vent. Microwave on HIGH 10 to 14 minutes, stirring after 5 minutes, until hot. Stir well, then microwave on MEDIUM-LOW about 1 1/2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes, until meat is tender. Let stand as long as 30 minutes (to microwave other accompaniments) before serving. Just before serving, garnish stew with cooked bacon pieces. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Note: This entree may be made ahead of time and reheated with exceptionally good results. To reheat 1 or 2 servings, spoon into individual bowls or casseroles and microwave on HIGH about 2 to 3 minutes per serving. The entire casserole may be reheated on HIGH about 12 to 16 minutes, stirring every 3 minutes, until heated through. Refrigerate cooked bacon pieces separately and add to top of stew just before reheating.