Makes 8 servings. Prep: 20 minutes. Cook: 2 hours, 15 minutes. This recipe adapted from Clifford A. Wright's "One-Pot Wonders" may be doubled or tripled easily. We've doubled the recipe here to facilitate freezing a batch for another meal.
3 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
6 tablespoons unsalted butter or beef suet
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cups cold water
DREDGE beef in the flour; season with salt and pepper. In a large heavy flameproof baking casserole or stew pot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add the meat, in batches if necessary; brown on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Add onion; cook, stirring and scraping bottom of the pot until softened, about 4 minutes.
POUR in water to barely cover; reduce heat to low. Stir a bit then simmer, partially covered, until tender, about 2 hours. Check for seasoning. Finish with one of the variations below; or freeze half and cook the other half.
To freeze: Divide the finished stew in half. Cook half following a variation below. Spoon remaining half into a freezer-safe container, leaving about 1-inch headroom. Cool then cover, label and store in freezer up to 3 months.
To cook (from frozen): Remove half recipe of stew from freezer. Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Place thawed stew in a heavy stew pot; heat to a simmer on low heat. Proceed with a variation from below or create your own.
American style, based on Wright's basic beef stew: Add 1 pound potatoes (red, white, Yukon gold), peeled cubed; 1 1/2 carrots, scraped, diced; 1 large parsnip, scraped, diced; 1 medium turnip, peeled, diced. Continue cooking and stirring occasionally until everything is very tender, about 1 hour.
French style, our take on beef bourguignon: Dice 2 slices bacon. Cook in a skillet over medium heat with 1 chopped clove garlic and 1/2 pound mushrooms until bacon begins to brown. Add to stew with 1 cup red wine (Burgundy or merlot) and 1 teaspoon herbs de provence. Continue cooking and stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.
Spanish style, based on Wright's beef stew of La Mancha: Seed and slice 2 green peppers. Add to stew with 1 can each: drained chickpeas, diced tomatoes with juices; 1 clove garlic, minced; 1 bay leaf; a pinch of ground cloves and a pinch of saffron. Continue cooking and stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.