My Father-in-Law Cracked the Code to the Best-Ever Beef Stew

Classic comfort foods are classics for a reason. Although there are variations, you mostly know what you're going to get when you see a pan of mac and cheese, a bowl of chicken noodle soup or a stack of pancakes. And that's not a bad thing. Part of the reason comfort food is comforting is that it's consistent and even a little bit predictable.

But sometimes you're digging into one of your favorite foods and you get a little surprise. That's exactly what happened to me years ago when I had my father-in-law's beef stew for the first time.

My now-husband, Matt, and I hadn't been dating that long when he and I traveled from New York to Massachusetts, where his parents live. One evening while we were there Dave, Matt's dad, decided to make a pot of one of his signature dishes: beef stew. I was excited to try it, but when I dug in I immediately noticed that something was different.

The usual vegetable suspects—carrots, potatoes, celery—were there, and the meat was tender and the broth was flavorful, but there was a deep spicy note that I wasn't expecting. Because I'm a food editor (and a big ol' food nerd) I dug around in my bowl trying to suss out the secret ingredient. It hit me when I spied a droplet of orange grease floating on top of the broth: pepperoni!

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Why You Should Add Pepperoni to Your Beef Stew

The classic pizza topping might seem like an odd beef stew addition, but the subtle spice and rich flavor really amp up all of the other flavors in the dish and jazz up the vegetables in the most delicious way. Dave skips the pre-sliced pepperoni in favor of a stick of pepperoni. That lets you cut up the meat however you'd like and also ensures that the sausage isn't dried out.

Cook up the pepperoni with some onions as a delicious base for your stew. You can use as much or as little as you like, but remember that the salty sausage goes a long way, so start small and add to taste. As the dish cooks, the pepperoni flavor will infuse the dish in a subtle way, making the beef more tender and flavorful and adding its tell-tale sheen to everything. If you can make the stew the day before serving it, do that. As with most stews, this dish is better the day after it's made, when the flavors have a chance to mingle and meld.

And while Dave hasn't revealed his exact recipe (though he assures me he will!), I did quiz him about the dish and he gave up a few more secrets that you may want to also consider.

"Beef stew was the first dish I tried experimenting with the addition of pepperoni," he says. "I was looking to add more of an Italian and spicy twist to my stew. After several attempts, I finally came up with the addition of pepperoni, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, Italian seasoning, oregano and basil. It's one of my favorite go-to comfort food recipes."

Mine, too Dave, mine too.

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