With all of the talk of instant pots these days, I’m going against the grain on this one. Nice and slow. To quote the folks over at Cooking Light, “some sort of magic happens over the long, controlled simmer in the slow cooker: The barley cooks to tender-chewy perfection, the inexpensive and tough beef becomes meltingly tender, and the liquid thickens to a beautiful gravy.” And I’m here to tell you that it’s all true.
So even though it’s officially the first day of Spring, it still feels like winter in my neck of the woods. I hope you don’t mind, but I thought I’d sneak in one more hearty dish.
If you know that you are going to have a super hectic day, plan to prepare this the night before. All of the prepped ingredients can be assembled in the bowl of your slow cooker and stored in the fridge until you’re ready to run out the door in the morning.
Before the beef cubes are added to the mix, be sure to brown them thoroughly. The more caramelization; the more richness and depth of flavor you’ll have in your final dish.
A quick note on the whole grain barley …be sure to use either hull-less or hulled barley, not the typical quick-cooking pearled barley, which would simply turn to mush after hangin’ out in the slow cooker for so long. I use Bob’s Red Mill Whole Hull-Less Barley and it turns out perfectly every time, with a chewy texture and nutty flavor.
The above is a photo of the entire list of ingredients, prepped and ready to start the 8-hour slow cooker process. This is where you can easily hit the pause button and slip this into your fridge so that it’s ready to go first thing tomorrow morning.
The above photo represents how your stew will look at about 4 hours in …halfway through the cooking process.
Once the stew is done, carefully remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves. It is ready to serve at this point.
But I did want to mention that you can make some last-minute additions, depending on your personal taste. My husband’s first question is usually “but where are the potatoes?” This stew is very hearty with the cooked barley but you can easily add those potatoes. I cut up a leftover baked potato into cubes and it is much appreciated. You can add some cooked peas and/or string beans. Sautéed mushrooms would be delicious, too. Be creative and make it yours.
A sprinkling of fresh parsley or thyme leaves adds the finishing touch. And, as always, don’t forget the crusty bread to sop up all of that delicious gravy.
slow cooker beef & barley stew
Adapted from Cooking Light
Hearty slow-cooking stew; freezes well & reheats beautifully.
- 4 cups beef stock
- 1 1/2 cups chopped onion (about 5.5 ounces)
- 1 cup hull-less whole-grain barley (or hulled)
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sliced celery (about 4 ounces)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 large thyme sprigs (plus leaves for garnish, if desired)
- 3 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 pounds chuck beef cubes, divided
- 2 1/2 cups carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 16 ounces)
- fresh chopped parsley, for garnish (if desired)
Stir together first 8 ingredients in a 6-quart slow cooker. Add thyme sprigs and bay leaves; dollop the tomato paste on top.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add half of the beef cubes; cook until well browned, about 6 minutes, turning once. Add the first batch of browned beef cubes to the slow cooker. Repeat with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and beef cubes. Scatter the carrot pieces over the beef.
Cover and cook on LOW until meat and grains are tender, about 8 hours. Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Ladle the stew into 8 bowls; sprinkle with thyme leaves and/or chopped parsley, if desired.