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"This was after stew. But then, so is everything. When the first man crawled out of the slime and went to make his home on land, what he had for dinner that night was stew." – William Goldman, author of the Princess Bride
"What are you cooking?! Even the garage smells great!" These were the actual words spoken by my son when he returned from work one day to a house filled with the aroma of chicken stew.
Most think of a stew as a thick dish of meat and veggies; but it's really a term for a culinary technique similar to braising used to tenderize tough, less expensive, but flavorful cuts of meat. Stew has been served for dinner since the first hungry person figured out how tasty it was to hunt that very large woolly and well-tusked animal, toss the meat with some water into a vessel positioned over a low fire, and cook it for a great long time. A fun fact about another long ago stew comes from Ancient Rome and Apicius, the title of the first known cookbook. Apicius was written around the fourth century and contains several rather interesting recipes for stew. Edited and reprinted repeatedly in modern times, the ancient recipes from Apicius are awaiting the most adventurous of chefs or those that just love food history!
What makes a stew similar to but different from braising? For stew, the ingredients are cut into small pieces and put in the pot with enough liquid to cover. In braising, the pieces are generally left larger if not entirely whole, and the liquid does not cover the meat. It’s the same idea though - cook slowly with a little liquid to intensify the flavors and tenderize the meat. It’s still a stew if there’s no meat as long as the vegetables, fruit or beans are just covered in the liquid and cooked slowly. Ingredients can be browned or simply tossed into a pot with the other ingredients; either way it’s still stew.
Once you get comfortable creating a pot of stew, you don’t even really need a recipe, just a few general guidelines.
- Simple way: clean and chop your ingredients and pop them all into a heavy pot with an oven proof lid and merrily skip to Step 5.
- Fancy way: sear your main ingredients like meat or mushrooms and onions before adding them to the pot.
- If you like thick sauce, dredge the meat in flour before searing or use a roux as I did in Aline's Chicken Stew (the stew that had my son so glad to be home for dinner).
- If you sear in the pot, be sure to deglaze it with a little liquid and scrape up all those delicious browned bits so they incorporate into your stew.
- Choose your liquid and only just cover the ingredients.
- Cook at a low temp on a stove or about 300-325 degrees in an oven.
- How long you cook depends on what you used for ingredients.
- Tough cuts of meat will need 2 ½ hours or more.
- Pre-soaked beans, mushrooms, and some veggies will cook quickly in under an hour. Some vegetables will need a little more time.
- Fish or chicken stews will finish cooking at various points in between.
Most of us that love to cook have a go-to stew recipe; one guaranteed to bring everyone home in time for a family meal - a mindful dish that stirs up cherished memories along with enticing aromas in anticipation of a wonderfully satisfying meal. Here are a few recipes in case you want to try creating a new shared meal memory.
Italian Beef Stew is serious home cooking comfort food.
Crockpots are terrific for making a great stew! In this recipe Crazypotato98 uses Chicken and Pinto Beans!
This Lentil and Sausage Stew by Crazypotato98 is a satisfyingly delicious way to please your entire family.
The following recipe is a good example of the use of braising. I make no claims at all that this is the authentic way to make Italian Beef as it is not at all authentic - but my Italian Polish husband loves it. Find it at the Mindful Palate.
Once you know the nutrition facts stew is perfect for calorie counters of all types of eating styles. Low carb? Easy! Vegetarian? Simple! Low calorie? Absolutely! Complete your aromatic meal by adding the visual contrast of a colored salad, a brown flaky homemade biscuit or piece of chewy flat bread, a bowl of warm stewed cinnamon apples for dessert, and make some new stew memories with family and friends.
What sort of memories and stories do you have the feature stew? Did your Mom make a stew that brought you home for meals? Have you read the cookbook Apicius and did you try the recipes? What is your favorite ingredient in stew? Do you like the stock thick or thin? Do you prefer vegetarian, meat stews, or both? Do you have a wonderful recipe to share? This article may be reprinted (including bio) with prior permission from the author.