The Secret Ingredient That Adds An Umami Kick To Beef Stew

If you want to kick your beef stew up a notch there's one secret ingredient you just have to try. Chock full of salty, briny, umami flavor, it will impart your stew with an extra layer of yumminess without dramatically taking over the dish. Even better, this secret ingredient is relatively affordable and high in Omega 3s. And it won't take much to get the desired effect — so you'll have plenty left over to use in other recipes. Are you ready for it? The secret ingredient is anchovies!

"Anchovies aren't to everyone's taste, but I've always been smitten by these delicious, silvery slivers of fish," Chef Jacob Kenedy, of London's Bocca di Lupo, wrote in National Geographic. "Like artichokes, lemons, good oil, and quality chocolate, they're a humble ingredient that steal the limelight when allowed to shine."

Even if anchovies aren't really to someone's taste, that doesn't mean they won't still rave about your beef stew that has some tucked into the recipe. After all, not liking anchovies on pizza or crackers isn't exactly the same as the subtle yet vibrant flavors that come with slow-simmering the tiny little fish along with all of those veggies, meat, and herbs.

How to use anchovies in beef stew

There's no need to worry that the rich taste of anchovies will overpower your beef stew — it's not like you're going to dump a whole tin into the pot. Rather, it only takes a couple of the little fishies to enhance a big batch of stew and imbibe it with a delicious dose of the umami flavor. Seriously, just two anchovies will do for a stew with five pounds of meat. It's important to use the oil-packed ones as those packed in salt are dried out and they will have to be soaked to rid them of their extra sodium. That extra oil will also help transport more of their umami flavor to your stew.

You're going to want to add the anchovies to the pot at the same time as the tomato paste, after letting the veggies sauté for a while. Make sure to let the anchovies break down, stirring as necessary. Before long you won't even be able to tell that there are fish in the stew's base. Then continue your recipe as usual.

As for the leftover anchovies, they can be frozen long-term or stored in the refrigerator for up to a few months as long as they're packed in plenty of oil. But once you've given them a shot at enhancing beef stew, you'll probably be looking for more foods to sneak them into in order to reap those umami rewards.

Anchovies are a common secret ingredient

If you're still not convinced, consider that even if you don't like anchovies on their own there's a good chance that you enjoy a number of foods that rely on them for a dash of umami. Perhaps the best-known places that anchovies hide in plain sight are in Caesar salad dressing and Worcestershire sauce. They can also be found in a number of Asian and Italian dishes, such as doenjang-jjigae stew and bigoli in salsa, and they're a popular topping for crostini in Italy.  Anchovy broth is popular in Korean cooking, so if you've ever ordered noodle soup in a Korean restaurant, you may have tried it without even knowing.

So go ahead, why not give them a shot the next time you cook up a big batch of beef stew? Not only will you be pleasantly surprised by how well anchovies enhance the flavor of your favorite recipe with a healthy dash of umami, but chances are anyone you serve it to is going to be begging for more. And don't be surprised if friends and family are lining up for the recipe. Anchovies really are the ultimate secret ingredient.