Comissary Beef Stew Recipe | Stew Recipes | PBS Food

Captain Sanderson’s Comissary Beef Stew

Enjoy a hearty slow-cooked meal with this adaptation of an original beef stew fed to the Union army. Tori Avey explores the full story of the challenges of feeding soldiers during the Civil War in The History Kitchen.


Yield: 8 Servings

Theme: ,


  • 2 lbs. beef stew meat, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 tbsp pork fat or lard (vegetable oil can be subbed)
  • 3 quarts + 1/2 cup water
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 2 onions, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and sliced
  • 1 leek, trimmed, sliced, and rinsed clean
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional ingredients – chopped turnips or salsify


  1. Sprinkle the stew meat with salt and pepper. Heat the fat in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the meat and sauté for a few minutes, stirring frequently, till well browned, but not fully cooked.
  2. Transfer the browned meat to a large pot and cover with 3 quarts (12 cups) of water. Bring to a boil. Skim the fat that rises to the surface. Add the potatoes, carrots, onions, parsnips and sliced leek to the pot.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour with 1/2 cup cold water till a thick, smooth liquid forms. Slowly stir the flour water into the stew pot. Season the pot with salt and pepper (I used 1 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper; use more or less to taste if you prefer). Bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce the heat a low simmer. Let the stew simmer for 3 1/2 hours, stirring periodically and skimming any fat that rises to the top. If the stew becomes too thick over time, you can add additional liquid to thin it out as needed.
  5. At the end of cooking, the meat should be very tender and the sauce rich and thick. Remove from heat and stir in the vinegar. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Serve hot.