This Peruvian Beef Stew (Seco de Carne) is my interpretation of a traditional Peruvian beef stew. Beef cubes and vegetables simmer in a thick gravy of cilantro, ají panca, beer, and beef broth. The resulting stew is savory and complex, and sure to please your hearty stew-loving family and friends!
👩🏻🍳 Tamara Talks - About Seco de Carne with Cilantro
Having spent a lot of time in Peru, I typically refer to this dish by its Spanish name - seco de carne. However, my readers are mostly in the US, so I titled it Peruvian Beef Stew. You may also see seco de res.
Seco de carne has been a part of Peruvian culture for centuries, and has many different influences - but reminds me of North African tagines dishes. Seco, literally translated, means dry. The stew is not dry, but the tender meat and vegetables do not swim in broth. It is really more like a gravy in my mind.
Originally, goat (cabrito), lamb (cordero), and deer (ciervo) were typical, but in modern times, beef is the popular choice. We don't indulge in beef often, and when we do, it needs to be tasty! This dish is so tasty. I like to serve seco de carne with salsa criolla, but Peruvians are likely to have it with rice and beans. I think plantains, yuca, and ají verde would be nice sides as well.
About a year ago, I bought the Instant Pot Dutch Oven. I LOVE IT! This beef stew recipe is a perfect dish to prepare in the Dutch oven. A regular Dutch oven is fine as well. A heavy pot with a snug lid is a requirement.
📋 Ingredients You'll Need
Here is a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe – it’s handy to use at the grocery store or as a summary of what you need. Skip to the recipe for quantities.
- beef - I look for a lean cut of beef like round or rump. The USDA designates this cut as lean. Chuck is not quite as lean, and probably more traditional. Both are good candidates for "low and slow" cooking which defines this beef stew recipe.
- onion - Peruvians LOVE red onion. I will always use a red onion. It's fine if you use a white, yellow, or sweet onion.
- ground cumin
- ají panca paste - Recipes are myriad, and many (if not most) use ají amarillo paste. I often see a combination of the two. However, I LOVE ají panca paste with beef, and in the interest of keeping it simple, decided to go with the ají panca paste. Feel free to use ají amarillo paste, or a combination of the two. You need to use a Peruvian chile paste in your Peruvian beef stew!
- camote flour - Camote flour is sweet potato flour, and widely used in Peru. I like it, and use it when it's appropriate. You can use wheat-based flour, gluten free flour, or potato flour. I feel it is important to brown the flour, and thus cornstarch - which has to be mixed with liquid - isn't the best option.
- Beer - I like Xingu for Peruvian recipes (it's a dark Brazilian lager), but that means a trip to a very large liquor store. I keep Coronitas on hand for cooking (they're 7 ounces, and just right for de-glazing). On photo day, I went with a pilsner (Stella Artois). Pilsners are lagers, but not all lagers are pilsners. Choose a clean-tasting lager, and avoid anything with strong malty or hoppy flavors. See Brewer Beer Style Guide if you have questions. Chicha (Peruvian corn beer) is another great option. If you prefer to avoid alcohol, substitute additional broth.
- cilantro - You will need an entire bunch of cilantro.
- beef broth - You can get away with chicken broth, but beef is best.
🥩 How to Sear the Beef
The maillard reaction of the meat is key to making the most flavorful stew. Similar to caramelization, the maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives color, flavor, and aroma to foods (especially meats) that are browned over high heat. If liquid is present, the meat will steam rather than sear. If you want to extract the most flavor from your meat, browning is a crucial step (don't skip it when using a slow cooker!).
Your goal, then, is to get your meat as dry as possible, and use a hot enough pan. I like to use cast iron when searing/browning meat. My Instant Pot Dutch Oven actually has a "sear" setting, and it gets smoking hot. Always pat your meat dry before browning with a clean towel or paper towels.
How high to set your pan? The surface temperature range to aim for when searing is 400-450°F (204-232°C). Choose a cooking fat with a high enough smoke point to withstand the heat. The smoke point of vegetable oil is about 440-460°F (204-238°C), and that is what I recommend. Use a very thin layer of oil - you aren't frying! When the pan begins to smoke, add the beef. Reduce heat to medium-high if needed. You don't have to brown the meat completely. I usually go for about 40-50%.
It is important to watch rather than stir. The meat needs to be left alone in order to get through the entire searing process. If you poke at it or try to flip it, you’ll interrupt the flow. The meat is expected to stick to the pan and then release, when the process is finished and it’s ready to be turned. It should be dark brown, but not black.
NOTE: Unfortunately, many meat and poultry products are injected with a water, salt, and chemical solution to "enhance" or "flavor" the meat. They claim this is a benefit to consumers, but it adds weight to the meat (water is cheaper than beef), and unnecessary sodium. Don't get me started on the chemicals. Always read the labels. If you do get "enhanced" meat, you can still brown it, but it is more challenging. Pat it dry, and turn up the heat on your pan. Once the liquid evaporates, you should get some browning.
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🔪 Instructions for Peruvian Beef Stew
- Brown the meat - Add vegetable oil to a Dutch oven over high heat. When the pan begins to smoke, add the cubed beef. Leave the beef alone. It needs to stick to the pan to brown. You don't have to brown on all sides. 40-50% is fine. When you've got some good browning, remove browned beef from the pot.
- Combine the cilantro and beef broth in a blender and puré. Set aside.
- Sauté the aromatics - Reduce the heat to medium. Add the chopped red onion, cumin, ají panca paste, and garlic. Stir 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
- Add the potatoes and flour - Add the camote, potato, or wheat flour and sweet and regular potatoes. Stir an additional 2-3 minutes.
- Add the liquids - First de-glaze the pot with the beer. It will bubble up a bit. Let it reduce slightly. Stir in the cilantro-beef broth mixture. Add the beef back into the pot. Cover, and simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally. If the stew looks dry, add a little more liquid.
- Finish the stew - Add the peas to the stew. If using fresh peas, they require 5-7 minutes. If using frozen peas, they really just need to thaw and get warmed up.
What cut of meat should I use?
I always reach for the leaner cuts of beef - top sirloin, round, rump - but chuck is probably more typical. Short ribs are another tasty option, but you'll need to pull out bones if they're not boneless. In Peru, you're more likely to find alpaca, goat, mutton, etc. Along Peru's coast, you'll actually find fish and seafood seco stews.
Is Peruvian beef stew good leftover?
We think so! Reheat for up to 5 days, or store in a freezer bag for up to 3 months.
What can I do if my meat has been injected with water solution to improve browning?
Salt (dry brine) the meat, and leave uncovered in the refrigerator to remove some of the moisture, then pat dry.
When browning, don't crowd the pan. Make sure that there is empty space around each piece of meat to allow as much evaporation as possible.
💭 Helpful Tips
When browning, it is important to watch rather than stir. The beef needs to be left alone in order to brown. Fight the temptation!
Cast iron retains heat very well, and can go from the required high heat of the searing process to the simmering that achieves the tender results.
January is a great time for hearty, warming stews, and this seco de carne is a favorite beef stew recipe at Andersen casa. Ají panca paste is really the only ingredient that may be harder to find. If you're looking for a Peruvian-inspired twist on a beef stew recipe, this one is worth a try! We love it with this simple salsa criolla. I hope you'll give it a whirl!
Peruvian Beef Stew (Seco de Carne)
- 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 pound lean beef, cubed - see Ingredients in Post
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
- ¼ cup flour - see Ingredients in Post
- 1 cup beer or chicha - see Ingredients in Post
- 1 bunch cilantro - chopped at the base of the leaves
- 1 cup beef broth
- 2 tablespoons ají panca paste - see Ingredients in Post
- 2 small sweet potatoes, cut in chunks
- 2 large potatoes, cut in chunks
- 1 cup fresh or frozen peas - add fresh peas 7 minutes before serving, and frozen about 4 minutes before serving
- sea salt and fresh ground pepper - to taste
- Add vegetable oil to a Dutch oven over high heat. When the pan begins to smoke, add the cubed beef. Brown the beef.
- Combine cilantro with 1 cup of beef broth in a blender. Set aside
- Reduce the heat to medium. Add the chopped red onion, cumin, ají panca paste, and garlic. Stir 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
- Add the flour, and sweet and regular potatoes. Stir an additional 2-3 minutes to toast the flour.
- First de-glaze the pot with the beer. Let it reduce slightly, then stir in the cilantro-beef broth mixture. Add the beef back into the pot. Cover, and simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally. If the stew looks dry, add a little more liquid.
- Add the peas to the stew. If using fresh peas, they require 5-7 minutes. If using frozen peas, they really just need to thaw and get warmed up.
- Ladle into bowls. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro as desired. Enjoy!
NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and MyFitnessPal.com. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.