Autumn Stew with Mushrooms and Juniper Berries
Strong, wild, savory flavors of the Nordic forest
Taste of Norway Editor
The Norwegian American
There is nothing quite like a cozy stew on the dinner table to signal the beginning of autumn, and this hearty Scandinavian-inspired recipe is the perfect way to kick off the season.
Generous chunks of tender meat, fresh thyme, and crushed juniper berries are simmered in a luxurious savory sauce and topped with tender mushrooms sautéed in butter. Add a side of mashed potatoes or buttered noodles and a dollop of lingonberry preserves, and you have an unforgettable fall feast your guests won’t soon forget.
Making an excellent stew at home
Making a delicious stew in your home kitchen is a simple and straightforward process, but there are a few tips and tricks for ensuring that it is the very best it can be:
• Start with a chuck roast and cut it into smaller pieces. Some grocery stores and meat markets sell pre-cut stew meat, which is often just a combination of scraps leftover from the day’s trimming. This can lead to uneven cooking as different cuts of meat require different cooking times. For best results, buy a nice chuck roast and cut it up yourself.
• Cook the stew in a large heavy Dutch oven. If you enjoy making soups and stews at home, it’s worth investing in a large Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Enameled cast iron pots are the perfect vessels for cooking a stew, as they distribute heat evenly and have a heavy lid to trap the moisture of the stew inside during the long simmering time. I have a 7-quart Dutch oven, and it is probably the most frequently used pot in my kitchen.
• Brown the meat. Some stew recipes skip this step, but for the best stew possible, browning is essential. The outside of the chunks of meat become caramelized and flavorful, and the process leaves savory “brown bits” on the bottom of the pan, which get scraped up and incorporated back into the sauce.
• Pat the meat dry before browning. Meat is typically damp on the surface, so it helps to pat it with paper towels before salt and peppering and adding it to the hot oil in the pan. This helps keep the meat from steaming and encourages the flavorful caramelization process.
• Sprinkle flour over the vegetables and cook for a minute before adding any liquid. It’s important to cook the flour briefly before adding any broth to the stew to prevent the flour from tasting raw in the final dish. This only takes about a minute but is an important step.
• Cook the stew in the oven rather than on the stove top. A low 300° oven is the perfect environment for a simmering stew. The heat is consistent and coming from all sides of the pot as opposed to just from the bottom as is the case with simmering on the stove top. The stew will cook more evenly and you have less risk of any scorching on the bottom of the pot.
• Don’t rush the cooking process. Beef chuck roast will take about 2 hours to become tender in a 300° oven (elk can take up to 3 hours or more). This slow and low cooking method will yield big flavor and a silky, delicious sauce.
For ease and convenience, this recipe calls for a beef chuck roast, but should you happen to have elk meat on hand, feel free to use that instead. The same goes for the mushrooms: any cultivated mushroom will do, but if you have seasonal wild mushrooms at your disposal, they would be wonderful here as well.
I hope this recipe serves as a delicious gateway to fall cooking for you this year. It is a hearty and soul-warming way to welcome autumn to your table!
What are and how do I cook with Juniper berries?
Juniper berries are the female seed cones produced by the juniper tree. These berries are often used as a spice in Northern European cuisine and are one of the few spices derived from conifers.
These potent little berries are best used in small amounts to flavor dishes (note that this recipe only calls for 6 berries). This is because they pack an astringent, pine-like punch. If you have tasted gin, you probably have a good idea of what juniper berries taste like … think fruity, peppery, and piney.
Juniper berries are wonderful with beef and wild game and make an excellent addition to a stew like this one. You can source juniper berries that have been dried in the spice aisle of your local well-stocked grocery store or at a dedicated spice store.
with Mushrooms and Juniper Berries
For the stew:
3 lbs. beef chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1½-inch pieces (or wild game stew meat such as elk)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsps. vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, diced
6 crushed juniper berries
1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried thyme
3 tbsps. all-purpose flour
3 cups beef broth
2 tsps. soy sauce
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
½ cup heavy cream
For the mushrooms:
2 tbsps. unsalted butter
½ lb. fresh mushrooms (any variety will work well here; I used cremini mushrooms)
Chopped fresh parsley or thyme for garnish
Buttered egg noodles or mashed potatoes
1. Preheat the oven to 300°. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven on the stove top over medium-high heat.
2. Pat the pieces of meat dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Cook the meat in the oil until browned and caramelized, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from the pot and transfer to a plate. Set aside.
3. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the onion to the empty pot. Cook until it is translucent and beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the juniper berries and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds more.
4. Sprinkle the flour over the top of the onion. Cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Slowly stir in broth, soy sauce, vinegar, and cream, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan as you go. Bring to a simmer and add the beef and any drippings on the plate back to the pot. Cover and transfer to the oven until the meat is tender, about 2 hours (wild game meat may take longer to become tender).
5. Heat the butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until golden brown, about 7-9 minutes. Gently stir half of the cooked mushrooms into the stew. Garnish the stew with the remaining mushrooms and a shower of chopped fresh parsley and/or additional thyme. Serve immediately with buttered egg noodles or mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam.
The stew can be made up to 3 days ahead of time. Simply store tightly covered in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. Reheat on the stove top over low heat until warmed through, adding water to thin the sauce as needed.
Photos: Kristi Bissell
This article originally appeared in the October 7, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.