There are a few meals I make where there are no comments or opinions, just blissful silence marred only by the methodical clicking of the spoon against the bowl. Orange Cocoa Beef Stew is one of these meals for us and although it takes time to simmer, your time during preparation is minimal.
As an avid cookbook fiend, I’ve made what seems like 100 different beef stew recipes. Over the years, I’ve melded all my experiences into one recipe that suits us all.
My husband loves a true Beef Bourguignon but the kids are a little turned off by a broth that contains a bottle of red wine. Of course, we refuse to omit wine entirely but we compromise by reducing the amount of wine and accentuating it with beef broth.
All of us can agree on a bit of cocoa and twist of orange. I even toss in a cinnamon stick, which not only seems to make sense during the winter months for its spicy warmth but may also offer other health benefits. Lab studies suggest cinnamon may help fight inflammation, have antioxidant properties and lower blood sugar levels in the body. *
Velvety dark, thick and filling, our family’s Orange Cocoa Beef Stew captures the sensory pleasures of this very cold season. Spicy cocoa and orange aromas are memories I hope my kids will always associate with winter days.
A cold wintry night with dark clouds covering the stars threatens to release snow for the morning. We sit down for a family meal in the evening then dim the lights for drama. Although in a household with two tween girls, we might argue we have more drama than we need.
Regardless, it makes us especially appreciative for the blissful silence that follows as our spoons reach for our bowls. A little bit of drama in our stew is the one thing these days on which we can all agree.
- 2 lbs cubed beef stew meat
- Salt and pepper
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 cups beef broth
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 Tablespoon cocoa (unsweetened, preferably Dutch-processed and/or best quality)
- 1-inch piece of orange zest (or I have also used a thin clementine peel) Wash an orange and run a vegetable peeler lightly across the orange's outer skin until you have a few strips.
- 4 carrots, peeled and chopped (optional)
- 1 cup frozen peas (optional)
- Trim beef cubes so they are all more or less the same size. Season generously with salt and pepper (about 1½ teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon ground pepper)
- Melt butter in a large stock pot (if possible, do not use non-stick) over medium high heat. Add 1 Tablespoon oil.
- Once butter is foaming, add enough beef cubes to form one layer at the bottom of the pan. (Do not overcrowd. You will likely brown 2-3 batches depending on the size of your pan.)
- Let the beef cubes sizzle until browned, then turn until all sides are browned. Remove to a plate and continue with the rest of the beef cubes. Don't worry about any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add a little oil and butter, if necessary. There should be a thin layer on the pan at all times.
- After all of the beef has been removed from the pan, immediately add onions and stir around into oil and browned bits. Add a pinch of salt to the onions and keep stirring until onions soften, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add garlic, stir in for about 30 seconds.
- Add tomato paste and stir until the paste covers the bottom of the pan. You will start to get nervous thinking you will never get this pan clean. Just when it begins to stick and darken...
- Add the wine and thyme and bring to a boil scraping the bottom of your pan with a wooden spoon to loosen all of the bits. Continue boiling for about 1 minute until it barely covers the pan.
- Add broth, cocoa, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and orange zest/peel. Stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. (I recommend you do taste as broth can vary widely in salt content. I usually end up adding about a teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper.)
- Cover and simmer over lowest heat for about 2½ or 3 hours until beef is meltingly tender.
- If adding vegetables, add during the last hour of cooking.
- To serve, remove bay leaf, orange peel and cinnamon stick and discard.
- To cook in a crockpot, prepare stew on stovetop then pour into crockpot to simmer for about 7-8 hours on low heat or 4 hours on high.