I shall have to spread this post over two days. That is not because making a stew is particularly complex; but it is something one does in various stages, each of which is worth a few comments.
The quantities below are what I cooked at the weekend. The stew fed three of us, and gave us seconds; with 700 g of beef, it would easily have fed four.
570 g chuck steak, cubed
1 tbsp plain flour
Olive oil, for frying
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
About 500 ml stock (the unusual base of mine was a chicken carcass and the bone from a roasted shoulder of lamb)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp nam pla (fish sauce) or Worcester sauce
100 g self-raising flour
50 g suet
Heat a heavy frying pan above a medium flame. In a bowl, toss the meat with the flour until the cubes are coated. Pour in about a tbsp of oil, and toss again. Brown the meat in batches, and transfer to a casserole.
Turn down the heat. Pour in another splash of oil, and immediately -- before the oil has a chance to burn -- add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic, stirring until they are soft and golden. Add them to the casserole, with the bay leaf, fish or Worcester sauce, a pinch or two of salt, and enough stock to cover the meat.
The sauce in a beef stew should be thickened slightly, I think. Browning the flour contributes to the colour of the sauce, and also tempers the floury taste. Apparently, it also diminishes -- but does not disable -- the thickening properties.
If you see a reference to "sealing" meat in a recipe, you know that the writer is either ignorant or a lazy reproducer of hackneyed terminology. Browning meat does not seal it; but it does make it more flavoursome, thanks to processes called Maillard reactions. You need only a little oil to facilitate these reactions. I have come to the conclusion that it is neater to coat the meat with oil rather than to heat a layer of oil in the pan. Brown the meat in batches, so that you do not lower the temperature of the pan; leave the cubes to fry for a minute or less, and turn once to brown a second surface.
Be cautious with the salt at this stage. Fish sauce and Worcester sauce (which add savouriness) are salty; and you may want to reduce the sauce later, increasing the salt concentration. Ground pepper in stews and stocks can become acrid; add it at the table.
Frying the vegetables sweetens them. If they start to brown, all the better for the richness of the sauce.
Tomorrow: simmering the stew and finishing the sauce; and the dumplings.