Making a good beef stew takes some time, but a longer cook time doesn't necessarily translate to better flavour and texture for your beef. In fact, shortening the recommended cook time of most recipes will make for juicier, less-pulpy beef stew.
Beef stew image from Shutterstock
The longer you simmer beef, the more it breaks down and becomes less chewy and easier to eat. According to J. Kenji López-Alt at Serious Eats, however, too much cook time changes the texture so the meat becomes softer, but feels too dry:
Think of it as being like the difference between a net full of water balloons and a net full of sponges. Both may have the same amount of moisture, but press down on the sponges and that liquid comes gushing out all at once, leaving behind a dry shell. The water balloons, on the other hand, take a little more effort to break, releasing their juices in discrete bursts — in the same way that juicy meat should release juice steadily as you chew, not gush out all its moisture at once.
López-Alt suggests that most beef stew recipes call for cook times that are too long and create that sponge effect he describes. So what should you do instead? López-Alt explains:
Use the timing in any stew recipe as a guideline. Start checking your meat when you hit around 80% of the total recommended cooking time, and stop cooking as soon as it reaches the stage at which the meat is tender, but not falling apart — so, if a recipe says to cook the stew for 2 1/2 hours, start checking it around the 2-hour mark.
That way your stew will still have plenty of time to simmer and marry all the flavours together, but your beef will stay extra juicy and tender. You can learn more about the science of making good beef stew at the link below.
Stew Science: Why You Shouldn't Cook Your Beef All Day [Serious Eats]