Thursday, February 23, 2012

Stew's On!

Last month we talked about chili , and also about soups.  We ushered in fall last October with the topic of chowders .  Now we conclude this four part series with a final look at a winter repast of meat and vegetables cooked in liquid, the stew.

The word stew may be applied as either a verb or a noun.  As a verb, stew means to cook by method of using liquid in the pot and simmering the food slowly for an extended period of time in a covered pot.  The noun stew is used to describe a dish that contains vegetables and usually meat, cooked in the aforementioned method.  Stews are heartier than soups, the liquid often thickened by stirring a combination of equal parts butter and flour into the cooking liquid during final moments of cooking.  While certainly appreciated as the quintessential winter fare, lighter stews are enjoyed in warm climates, such as bouillabaisse served at Mediterranean cafes.

Most stews contain a meat, typically beef because it is well adapted for slow cooking.  However, chicken and pork may also be used, as well as seafood.  Other requisite ingredients in a stew include a combination of vegetables, such as onions, carrots, tomatoes or peppers.  Starches such as potatoes or beans are often incorporated into the mix as well.  Seasonings of herbs and spice may also be added. 

While some cooks use water as the liquid base of their stews, more flavorful options include stocks and wine.  Some recipes call for additional liquid, such as cognac.  Carbonade flamande is a Beligian stew of beef and onions, stewed with Belgian beer.

Variations on stews from around the world include the French boeuf bourguignon, distinguished by the use of burgundy wine, mushrooms and pearl onions.  The aforementioned bouillabaisse is a fish stew that originated in the French region of Provence.  Also from France we have the cassoulet, a stew of pork and beans.   Irish stew is made from lamb and includes potatoes.  Another fish stew, the waterzoi, hails from Belgium.  Waterzoi can also be made with chicken, and both versions use cream to thicken the broth.  A tajine is a Moroccan stew so-named for the conical chimney-like pot in which it is prepared.  I shared my recipe for tajine with you last month in a feature on Moroccan cuisine.

And now I impart to you my recipe for a basic American beef stew.  There are hundreds of ways to make a stew.  Some call for browning the meat first, others call for filing the pot and relegating the entire cooking process to the oven.  Some stews cook entirely in the oven, some are start to finish on the stovetop, and others are prepared in a combination of both stovetop and oven.  I have found that the combination route takes less time, you will not have to sacrifice several hours to present a piping hot pot of stew for dinner.

Beef Stew (4 servings)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds stew beef, cut into equally-sized cubes
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups beef broth
2 cups red wine
15 new potatoes, halved
2 cups baby carrots
1 cup green peas
2 cups frozen pearl onions
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
¼ cup chopped parsley.

Preheat oven to 250-degrees.  Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper and cook in the pot until browned on all sides.   Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.  Add the chopped onion and the carrots to the pot and stir, cooking until the onions are transleucent.  Add the garlic and sauté for another two minutes.  Add the wine and deglaze the pot.  Stir in the stock and return the meat to the pot.  Bring to a boil, cover with a lid and cook in the oven for  1 hour.  Add the potatoes and stir, cover and continue cooking in the oven for another half hour, or until the carrots and potato are tender.  Transfer the pot to the stovetop over medium-high heat.  Thoroughly combine the butter and the flour and stir mixture into the stew.  Add pearl onions and peas  and continue to stir until liquid is slightly thickened.  Remove from heat, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Remember to serve your stew with some freshly baked bread from your local bakery to help mop away every last bit of gravy your plate has to offer.

The nice thing about stews is that you can get creative by varying ingredients to conjure a whole new ethnic twist.  For example, for a Mediterranean influence, use the above recipe but omit the potatoes and peas, and double the amount of garlic.  When adding the liquids, add 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, one-half tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves and one teaspoon freshly grated orange peel.  When adding the pearl onions, add one cup of pitted black olives, such as Kalamata olives, as well.  Love chick peas?  When you heap in the olive, go ahead and add a fifteen-ounce can of drained and rinsed chick peas as well.  Prefer not?  Serve this stew over a bed of couscous instead.  For variations that do not include potatoes in the recipe, stews can be ladled over noodles, couscous or mashed potatoes.  The flexibility of stews ensures that this winter comfort fare is always interesting, always warming and always welcoming to your dinner menu.

1 comment:

  1. Lets not forget the great west African Stew made with peanut butter!