In this paper, we consider an augmented velocity–pressure–stress formulation of the 2D Stokes problem, in which the stress is defined in terms of the vorticity and the pressure, and then we introduce and analyze stable mixed finite element methods to solve the associated Galerkin scheme. In this way, we further extend similar procedures applied recently to linear elasticity and to other mixed formulations for incompressible fluid flows. Indeed, our approach is based on the introduction of the Galerkin least-squares-type terms arising from the corresponding constitutive and equilibrium equations, and from the Dirichlet boundary condition for the velocity, all of them multiplied by stabilization parameters. Then, we show that these parameters can be suitably chosen so that the resulting operator equation induces a strongly coercive bilinear form, whence the associated Galerkin scheme becomes well posed for any choice of finite element subspaces. In particular, we can use continuous piecewise linear velocities, piecewise constant pressures, and rotated Raviart–Thomas elements for the stresses. Next, we derive reliable and efficient residual-based a posteriori error estimators for the augmented mixed finite element schemes. In addition, several numerical experiments illustrating the performance of the augmented mixed finite element methods, confirming the properties of the a posteriori estimators, and showing the behavior of the associated adaptive algorithms are reported. The present work should be considered as a first step aiming finally to derive augmented mixed finite element methods for vorticity-based formulations of the 3D Stokes problem. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.