Spring may be only two weeks and a day away, but it's still winter enough to contemplate a classic comfort food: Stew.
A hearty dish that typically uses inexpensive cuts of meat that simmer for hours, it's the kind of food that incorporates the low and slow cooking of hearty vegetables, bubbling away until flavors meld and the meat loosens and gains buttery texture.
For many Midwest households, the word "beef" often precedes "stew." But across America, stew includes a wide variety of meat (or not), from a spicy Southwestern chicken dish to slow-cooking bratwurst to Eggplant Parmesan Stew.
A few tips to help along the way:
Tough cuts of meat that lend themselves to stews tend to be fatty, so you need to trim them well for healthy results.
Cut meat and veggies into roughly equal-sized pieces so they'll cook evenly.
Use oatmeal to make your stew thicker. It will add flavor and richness.
Or, take some of the cooked vegetables out of the stew and puree in the blender. Then return to the original mixture.
Remove fat from stew by chilling tit with plastic wrap covering the surface. The fat will harden and come off when you lift off the wrap.
In a hurry to skim the fat? An ice cube floated in the stew will help to congeal the fat and make it easier to remove.
Spicy Meatball Stew
Served over whole wheat bow-tie pasta, this recipe is made easy by using frozen meatballs.
1. Heat a big sauce pot and add a tablespoon or so of olive oil.
2. Saute a diced jalapeno pepper and 1 diced green pepper for about 5 minutes.
3. Add a large can of diced tomatoes and a cup of frozen corn.
4. Stir in about two dozen frozen meatballs, slightly thawed. Let the mixture simmer for at least 10 minutes and make the noodles.
-- Janet K. Keeler, Tampa Bay Times
here are a few key details to remember when making this stew: Be sure to brown the meat well in the beginning, use a good quality red wine that you would happily drink, and, if possible, make it a day in advance to let the flavors develop. Adding tomato paste and a little brown sugar to the stock adds depth and sweetness which nicely rounds out the finished flavor.
3 pounds beef chuck, cut in 2-inch chunks
Freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup cognac*
4 large carrots
1 large yellow onion, cut in chunks
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 750-mililiter bottle full-bodied red wine
1 cup beef stock
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
2 teaspoons dried thyme
10 ounces pearl onions, peeled
1/2 pound white mushrooms, halved (quartered if large)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pat meat dry. Season all over with salt and pepper.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in large Dutch-oven or oven-proof pan with lid over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add beef to pan in one layer. Brown on all sides. Transfer beef to a bowl.
3. Add cognac to pan and deglaze pan over medium-high heat, scraping up bits. Allow to reduce by half. Pour cognac over beef.
4. Coarsely chop 2 carrots. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in same pan. Add chopped carrots, onion and garlic. Saute 3 minutes over medium heat. Add beef with cognac, wine, stock, tomato paste and thyme. (Beef should be covered by the wine and stock. If not, add more wine or stock to cover.)
5. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook 2 minutes. Cover and place in oven. Bake until meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
6. About 30 minutes before beef is done, cut remaining carrots in 1/2-inch slices. Steam or blanch carrots until crisp tender; drain.
7. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Saute pearl onions and mushrooms until light golden brown.
8. Remove beef from oven. Strain liquid from stew into a saucepan. Separate beef from the cooked vegetables and discard vegetables. Boil liquid until reduced by half and thickened to a sauce consistency, skimming fat from surface. Add sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
9. Add beef, carrots, pearl onions and mushrooms to stock. Simmer 15 minutes to heat through. Serve in warm bowls.
10. Beef Bourguignon may be prepared up to two days in advance. Cover and refrigerate. Before reheating, discard any solidified fat from surface. Reheat over medium-low heat on stovetop or in a 325-degree oven.
*Editor's note: If you don't have cognac, you can substitute any brandy, Scotch or whiskey. Peach, apricot or pear juice also can be used.
-- Food52, from a Bay Area food blogger
Chicken Dijon Stew
6 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 chicken, cut up
2 red onions
32 ounces can of peeled tomates, chopped
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence*
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1. Heat olive oil in Dutch oven and brown chicken pieces.
2. Remove chicken and cook sliced onion and garlic.
3. Add tomatoes, wine, herbs, salt and pepper to onions; cook 10 minutes
4. Add browned chicken back to tomato sauce, cook 45 minutes. Then add Dijon mustard, if desired. (It can be left out and still taste wonderful.)
*Editor's note: You can easily find herbes de Provence at the supermarket in the bottled herb aisle. If you want to make your own, the easiest way is to mix equal amounts of dry savory, rosemary, thyme. oregano, basil, marjoram and fennel seed.
Chorizo and White Bean Stew
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
1 pound fresh Mexican chorizo or Italian sausage links
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 sprig thyme
2 15-ounce cans cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
5 ounces baby spinach (about 10 cups)
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add sausage and cook, turning occasionally, until browned and cooked through, 15-20 minutes. Transfer sausage to a plate.
Reduce heat to medium. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in same pan. Add onion, garlic, and thyme sprig. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 5-8 minutes. Add beans and broth and cook, crushing a few beans with the back of a spoon to thicken sauce, until slightly thickened, 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add spinach by handfuls and cook just until wilted, about 2 minutes.
Slice chorizo and fold into stew; add water or chicken broth to thin, if desired. Divide stew among bowls; drizzle with oil and sprinkle with paprika. Yield: 4-6 servings.
-- Bon Appetit
Greek-Style Black-eyed Pea Stew with Ground Beef
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 onion, diced
3 celery ribs, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons dry oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
6 (15-ounce) cans black-eyed peas
5 cups beef (or chicken) stock, hot
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Place a large pot over medium-high heat, and once hot, add 3 tablespoons oil.
Once the oil is hot, add the ground beef, crumble well and brown a minute or two.
Add in salt and pepper, onion, celery, carrots, garlic and oregano; stir to combine. Cook about 2 minutes.
Add in cumin, cinnamon and tomato paste; and stir to combine. Cook 1-2 minutes more.
Add in black-eyed peas and stock; stir to combine and simmer gently, covered, about 20 minutes.
Smash the black-eyed peas lightly with a potato masher to break them up a bit and release their natural starches to thicken the stew. Cover and simmer an additional 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the peas from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
To finish the stew, add in the chopped parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice. Check to see if you need to add additional salt/pepper; serve with a little drizzle of olive oil on top, with warm, crusty bread on the side.
Serves about 6 entree-size portions.
Green Chile Chicken Stew
4 cups chicken stock
4 chicken thighs
1 medium onion, cut in quarters
1 medium carrot, cut in thirds
1 stalk celery cut in thirds
1 handful fresh celery leaves
3 stems fresh parsley
12 whole peppercorns
1 Roma tomato
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 ounces chopped green chiles
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano, crushed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, bring the chicken stock to the boil. Add the chicken thighs, onion, carrot, celery, celery leaves, parsley and peppercorns. Continue to cook at a very low boil for about 45 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
2. About 10 minutes before the chicken is cooked, squeeze the tomato into the stock and add the pulp.
3. Remove from the heat. Strain the stock into a container and allow to cool so that you can remove the fat that gathers on the top. Set aside.
4. Remove the skin and bones from the thigh meat, chop the meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
5. Clean the pot and return it to the stove over a medium flame. Heat the oil, and then add the diced onions. Cover and sweat the onions for 5 minutes or until they are soft and translucent. Do not allow them to brown.
6. Add the green chiles and minced garlic and continue to cook, uncovered. Stir frequently until the moisture has evaporated from the mixture. Add the flour and stir continuously for about 3 minutes so that the onions and chiles are completely coated and the flour has lost its raw taste.
7. Add the strained, cooled chicken stock and cubed potatoes. Return to the boil, stirring frequently. Continue to cook at a low boil until the potatoes are soft and cooked through, about 20 to 30 minutes.
8. Stir in the cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. Adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper if needed and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.
9. Add the chicken pieces, simmer for another 10 minutes, and then serve in large soup bowls along with your choice of garnishes. Serve with hot sauce and warm corn or flour tortillas or cornbread.
Garnishes: Chopped fresh cilantro, thin-sliced, baked corn tortilla strips, grated Monterey Jack cheese and diced avocados.
Blue River Stew
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 beef short ribs, bone-in
5 Russet potatoes, peeled, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 cup hominy*
1 2/3 cups beef broth
5 cups water
1/2 cup dark beer
2 tablespoons butter or bacon grease
1. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper on both sides.
2. Oil a large pot with either 2 tablespoons of butter or 1 tablespoon of bacon grease. After the pot is hot, add onions and garlic. Saute until the onions are translucent on medium heat.
3. Add the short ribs to the pot and brown on all sides. Stir the ribs around so that the onions do not burn. Cook the ribs for 5-6 minutes.
4. Add the beef broth, beer and water until it is boiling. When there is a rolling boil, stir in the hominy and potatoes. Lower the heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 2 hours.
Add additional water if the stew looks too thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste. I served the stew with the bones in but if you want to take the bones out, that is optional.
*If you can't find hominy, use an equal amount of canned white corn.
Slow Cooker Loaded Bratwurst Stew
4 cups coarsely chopped green cabbage (about 1/2 head)
1 pound smoked bratwurst, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped round red potatoes
3/4 cup chopped red sweet pepper (1 medium)
1 medium onion, cut into thin wedges
2 (14-ounce) cans chicken broth
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon celery seed
Shredded Swiss cheese (optional)
In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine cabbage, bratwurst, potatoes, sweet pepper, and onion.
In a large bowl, whisk together broth, mustard, vinegar, salt, black pepper and celery seed. Pour over all in cooker.
2. Cover and cook on low-heat setting 6 to 7 hours, or on high-heat setting for 3 to 3 1/2 hours. If desired, top each serving with cheese.
Makes 6 servings, each with 315 calories, 23 grams fat, 15 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 6 grams sugar, 1,348 mg sodium (this can be reduced by using low-sodium broth).
-- Better Homes & Gardens
Slow Cooker Eggplant Parmesan Stew
1 large eggplant, cut into cubes
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
8 ounces low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3/4 cups bread crumbs
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1. Stew: Combine all of the ingredients together in the slow cooker and stir gently to combine. Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours or high 3-4 hours.
2. Toppings: Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese and cook for a few minutes until toasted, stirring often.
3. Distribute stew to individual (oven-safe) bowls, top with a few slices of mozzarella cheese and place under the broiler to melt the cheese. Top the bowls with bread crumbs and basil leaves right before serving.
Make your own bread crumbs: Simply take some stale bread pieces, process them into crumbs in a food processor and toast them on a baking sheet for about 10-15 minutes in a 300-degree oven. Add some salt and garlic powder. Serves 6-8.