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The Cookstr 10: Ten Dishes to Stew Over

November 8, 2010

In many places around the country the temperature just took a nosedive. Toodle-doo, tank tops; hello, turtlenecks. It’s time to pull out the big guns. It’s time for stew.

Victoria Blashford-Snell and Brigitte Hafner's Irish Stew

Let’s shimmy on over to the dictionary for a moment and look up the definition of stew: as a noun, it’s defined as a dish of meat (which we beg to restate as optional, as evidenced by the plethora of both meaty and veggie stew options on Cookstr) and vegetables cooked slowly in liquid in a closed dish or pan. As a verb, it’s cooking by simmering. We do love a dish with a broad definition; the fewer the constraints, the more options we have.

Laura Pensiero's Biscuit-Topped Chicken and Root Vegetable Stew

Just picture it: the whole house filling with rich slow-cooked aromas, all those ingredients and flavors melding together, and that magical special element, the fact that almost every stew gets better with time. Now, for us, all of this adds up to some very clear directives. Make stew. Make a lot of it (most recipes can be multiplied up with great ease and success). Make it whenever you have time, since the words “serve immediately” aren’t in the lexicon of Stewenese (the age-old language of stews), and you can have that inimitable joy of knowing that dinner is but a reheat away at any given moment, all week long. Finally, invite people over. Stew is made for sharing.

“Talk of joy: there may be things better than beef stew and baked potatoes and home-made bread–there may be.” –David Gayson (American journalist, 1870-1946)

1. Anne Bramley’s Rustic Winter Stew. When Mark Twain said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” he may not have yet made it over to Eastern Europe. These people know their stews for a reason. This is a homey potful of pork shoulder, sauerkraut, tomato, paprika, and a final swirl of rich sour cream.

2. John Shields’ Chesapeake Bay Seafood Stew. There are so many kinds of fish and seafood stews, each more enticing than the next, and at some point we probably should devote an entire issue of The Cookstr 10 to just that topic (and another to beef stews, and another to vegetarian stews, and so on). For now, though, we’re honing in on this version of a French-inspired Chesapeake Bay bouillabaisse, bursting with regional clams and crabmeat and accented with saffron, tomatoes, and that classic flavorful Provençal mayonnaise, rouille.

3.  Nava Atlas’s Spaghetti Squash Stew with Turnips and Snow Peas. Preparing spaghetti squash feels more akin to conducting a magic trick than it does to cooking. You bake it in the oven, then, using nothing more than a fork, scrape the squash out so that the abundant flesh separates into strands that look exactly like its namesake. This vegetarian stew highlights the mild flavor of the squash with tomatoes–both canned and sun-dried–mushrooms, turnips, snow peas, and some Mediterranean herbs.

4. Susan Spungen’s Boeuf Bourguignon. Boeuf Bourguignon never fades away for a reason; it’s one of the most perfect beef stews on the planet. Slab bacon provides the deep, salty foundation, then absolute sumptuousness is achieved with layers of garlic, red wine, stock, mushrooms, onions, herbs and, of course, slow-braised beef.

5. Victoria Blashford-Snell and Brigitte Hafner’s Irish Stew. Knock knock. Who’s there? Irish stew. Irish stew who? Irish stew in the name of the law. (Sorry.) Lamb, potatoes, onions, carrots. This is the poster child for unpretentious stew.

6. Leslie Revsin’s Provençal Veal Stew. This one couldn’t be simpler–just some carrots, onions, garlic, and white wine–and it finishes cooking in the oven. Herbes de Provençe is an aromatic blend of basil, thyme, and rosemary, which you can buy or make yourself. The herbs mingle to provide a little shot of the South of France, right in your own kitchen.

7. Judith Finlayson’s Portuguese Sausage and Shellfish Stew. Break out the slow cooker, mama. The Portuguese have long known the merits of combining sausage and shellfish for a powerful pairing, and this is a perfect example. Fresh chorizo sausage is the main influence in the winey base of this stew, and at the end a shower of clams or mussels and shrimp soak up all of the slow-simmered flavor.

8. Anna Thomas’s Stewed Garbanzo Beans and Potatoes in Indian Spices. A perfect example of a stew that doesn’t need to rely on meat for its heartiness and satisfying nature. Beans are such amenable proteins when it comes to melding with all kinds of different spices and here the chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) meet their match with an explosion of Indian seasonings: cumin, coriander, cayenne, turmeric, mustard seeds, ginger, and cilantro. The flavors keep coming, and the beans keep saying, “Bring it ON.”

9. Laura Pensiero’s Biscuit-Topped Chicken and Root Vegetable Stew. Talk about a one-pot wonder. This is like the Snuggie of stews. The stew itself is a powerhouse of cold-weather vegetables and chunks of boneless chicken simmered in flavorful liquid, then quick biscuits are dropped on top of the casserole, the whole thing is sprinkled with cheese, a quick bake in the oven, and who’s better than you. Check out all the interesting variations.

Andrew Chase's Filipino Turmeric-Scented Pork Stew

10. Andrew Chase’s Filipino Turmeric-Scented Stew. Moving over to the Philippines, here’s another pork-based stew, this time lashed with ginger, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, and a bunch of veggies. If you can find chayote squash, which is pretty readily available these days, you’ll be pleased by its nice light taste and texture.

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