The secret to any great beef stew is to brown the meat well. Pat it dry with paper towels before cooking; damp meat will not brown as easily. Serve the stew with mashed potatoes.
1/4 pound bacon, diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 pounds boneless chuck, bottom or top round, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 large onions, sliced
1/4 cup cognac or other brandy
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 bay leaves
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 12-ounce can dark beer or stout
1 1/2 cups beef broth
3 slices country-style bread, crusts removed
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
How to Make It
Cook the bacon in a Dutch oven or ovenproof stockpot until brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the olive oil to the fat remaining in the Dutch oven. Heat over medium-high heat. Pat the meat dry with paper towels and brown very well, a few pieces at a time (don't crowd the Dutch oven), removing them when done. Brown the onions in the remaining fat, remove, and set aside. Discard any remaining fat.
Reduce heat to low. Add the cognac and scrape up all the browned bits. Carefully light with a match and swirl to burn off the alcohol.
Heat oven to 325° F. Return the bacon, beef, and onions to the Dutch oven. Stir in the salt, thyme, pepper, bay leaves, garlic, brown sugar, beer, and broth. Spread the bread with the mustard and lay on top. Heat to boiling. Remove from heat, cover, and place in the oven. Cook 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until the meat is fork-tender, stirring occasionally. Before serving, skim the fat from the sauce. Stir in the vinegar.
KEEP IT: Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 2 days. To freeze, place in airtight containers or heavy-duty zipper bags up to 3 months. When reheating, warm gently over medium-low heat.