This simple and easy local style beef stew recipe with tomato is a typical dish I make in our household during cold days. We simply call it beef stew in Hawaii but on the mainland, I've heard it called Hawaiian style beef stew. I suppose the latter name came about as a way to distinguish local style beef stew from traditional American (what we call "Mainland") beef stew recipes. From here on out, instead of calling it Hawaiian, I will call it local style beef stew. Go here for detailed step-by-step instructions with pictures.
Beef Stew: Hawaiian vs. Local Style
I differentiate between Hawaiian and local food because Hawaii has two separate but related cultures. The first is that of native Hawaiians, who have ownership of the name. These people have indigenous roots in the islands, and they have a birthright to the word "Hawaiian". They have their own culture, music, language, and food such as poi and laulau. In the Hawaiian language, native Hawaiians are kanaka.
Local refers to the culture developed by the people who moved to Hawaii and lived with native Hawaiian people for generations. They came from different parts of Asia and converged in Hawaii. Most of these people worked together in places such as plantations and combined resources. These resources included ingredients for cooking - hence, local style beef stew. Over time, local food became a standard in Hawaii. It's also how we ended up with local 'pidgin' English. A specific way of communicating evolved from people with different languages needing to talk to each other.
Distinguish Between Local and Hawaiian
When you meet someone from Hawaii, do not declare they are "Hawaiian" because they might not be! If you eat something "from Hawaii," ask if it's local or Hawaiian. Overall, the best approach is always to ask, and you will be met with appreciation. I think more and more people nowadays understand the complexity of how locals and Hawaiians live cohesively in two cultures, but I found it's always safer to explain this to people. I grew up as a local and took on local culture, but I do not consider myself Hawaiian. That is reserved for a select group of people!
What Makes this Beef Stew Different?
Local style beef stew has a tomato base, whereas the more typical beef stews come with red wine and beef broth. I list a beef bouillon in the recipe card at the bottom of the post, but the canned tomato and tomato paste will still be the prominent flavor of this stew.
Local Style Beef Stew Is Irresistible
The high school I attended had a particular lunch format. There were multiple lines with different options of food you could choose from. There was one dedicated salad bar, where I typically ordered. But when the daily menu had local beef stew, I made sure to get some. Maybe it was just me, but I loved the beef stew at my high school!
Beef stew is so good that you cannot stop locals from eating it, even on hot days! You can easily find yourself a solid plate in Oahu at all the famous eateries like Rainbow Drive Inn and Helena's Hawaiian Food. Of course, it also must be served with a side of rice and mac salad! It's considered one of the best local comfort foods around.
How To Make Local Style Beef Stew
Start by Cooking the Beef
Making this stew is straightforward. First, brown the beef in the pot with some oil on medium heat. Only cook the beef pieces a few times, making sure there is space between each piece. As soon as one side has browned, flip it to the other side. Try to do this section quickly, or you may burn the bottom of your pot. Take out the browned beef and put it on a separate plate.
Add a little more oil to the pot and add the onions and garlic. Cook them until glassy and soft, then add the tomato paste. Mix the tomato paste and cook for about two minutes. You can choose to deglaze the pan here by adding a bit of water or white wine to cover the bottom of the pot. Be ready if you use white wine as the pot will steam quickly!
Saute the Ingredients
Add the beef back in, then add the flour on top. Mix all the ingredients together. Cook for about two minutes before adding beef bouillon powder, salt, and pepper. You can adjust the seasoning to taste later after simmering for a while.
Open the canned tomatoes and pour them into the pot. Then fill the can with water and add that in as well. Fill it up one more time and add it in. The beef should be covered with the liquid, but add more water as needed. Throw in your bay leaves.
Simmer For a Long Time
This is where you must hone your patience! Cover the stew and let it simmer for about one to two hours, depending on your preference. If you want more tender meat, go for two hours. I tend to make this stew on days when I want to multitask, so I frequently end up cooking it for two hours.
In any case, add the celery, carrots, and potatoes about twenty to thirty minutes before you want to stop cooking. Add your final seasonings at this step, so they have a chance to meld into the stew. Depending on the canned tomatoes and tomato paste that I use, I sometimes add a teaspoon of sugar to round out the stew's flavor. Try it out, and let me know what you think!
The vegetables are ready when the potatoes have softened and the carrots still have a bite to them, but taste sweet.
How to Serve
It's probably the local or Filipino in me, but I can't eat stew without rice to this day. When I see just a bowl of stew and nothing else placed in front of someone, it just doesn't feel complete! So while you are letting the stew simmer away, make sure to cook some rice in the meantime! Serve the stew over a bed of steamed rice and dig in. If you want to opt for bread, try making this easy three-ingredient recipe. Enjoy the tenderness of the meat, the sweet and slightly crunchy carrots, and the richness of the tomato base!
More Hawaii Treats
If you are into local Hawaii food, check out this post on making spam musubi without a mold with just your bare hands! For something sweet that will send you to coconut heaven, try some chocolate haupia pie.
Have You Tried This Recipe?
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Local (Hawaiian) Style Tomato Beef Stew
- 1 kg beef for stewing, cut into chunk-sized pieces
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 tsp salt plus more, to taste
- ½ teaspoon black pepper plus more, to taste
- 1 beef bouillon, powdered
- 3 tablespoon flour
- 3 tablespoon tomato paste
- 800 grams canned tomatoes use any amount between 700 - 800 grams
- 3 small bay leaves
- 2 medium carrots, sliced into bite-size pieces
- 3 sticks celery, sliced into bite-size pieces
- 3 medium potatoes, cubed
- Brown the beef in a lightly oiled pot on medium heat. Put the beef on a separate plate and set aside.
- Add a bit more oil to the pot. Saute the garlic and onions together, then add the tomato paste. Mix around the pot for two minutes.
- Put the browned beef back into the pot, then add flour on top of the beef. Stir and cook everything around the pot for 2 more minutes. Then add salt, pepper, and powdered beef bouillon. Stir to mix the seasonings.
- Open the canned tomatoes and pour in all the tomatoes and liquid into the pot. Then fill up the can with water and add the water to the pot. If needed, add more water until the beef is covered.
- Add the bay leaves and bring to a simmer. When it starts simmering, cover the pot and let it cook for 1 - 2 hours depending on how tender you want your meat.
- 25-30 minutes before you turn off the heat, add the carrots, potatoes, and celery to the pot. Add additional seasonings to taste.
- Simmer until the carrot still has a slight crunch, but tastes sweet, and the potatoes are soft, but still have structure.
- Serve on steamed white rice.