Do you really have to brown meat intended for stew?
If it’s beef or lamb, then yes, even if it goes into the slow cooker. Browning produces the famous Maillard reaction, which gives you that delicious meaty tang. Without it, you get gray, sodden meat and a markedly less tasty stew.
But browning all those cubes of meat is a chore. It’s time-consuming, and the splattered oil makes a real mess.
The good news is that while you should brown your meat, you don’t have to stand over the stove. There’s an easier way. It doesn’t take less time, but the amount of active time is trivial. And that solution is: Use your broiler.
I experimented, based on a tip from Cook’s Illustrated, and it’s true: You don’t have to brown all the meat. Browning half the meat gives you about equally good results.
But could I make it even easier? It turns out, I could. I recalled that Julia Child didn’t brown pot roast in a pan, she just broiled it for five to seven minutes on each side. So what if I bought chuck roast or lamb shoulder, broiled the whole piece long enough to get it brown on the outside, and cut it into chunks?
Eureka! Way easier and less messy. If you line the pan with foil, you don’t even have to clean it.