Hearty, warming stews have been around for quite a while—since the 8th century B.C.E. in both European countries and the Amazons. Back then, Amazon tribes were said to have used turtle shells as a pot for cooking turtle meat with other ingredients to create a stew like meal. Thankfully, these days, more conventional barn-yard meats and fowls reign our recipes rather than turtle. Though whatever ingredient you choose, a stew is typically made from tough and dark cuts, also known as the poor man’s cuts. These particular cuts of meat become tender by using a low heat and cooking for a long period of time—making them perfect for stewing.
The most commonly made stews typically fall into either the white or brown category. White stews, also know as fricassees, tend to be made with lamb or veal that is lightly seared but not browned before cooking with the stock. On the other hand, brown stews are made with red meats such as venison or beef, and the pieces are typically browned before adding stock or wine. Many stews have a “kitchen sink” approach to them and are fantastic with just about any combination of meats and poultry, different vegetables such as potatoes, carrots or beans and whatever else you have hiding in your fridge and cabinets.
The ultra-comforting beef stew recipe below is one of my favorites. In line with the brown stew tradition, the beef is browned before simmering with a hearty ale and beef stock, creating a fantastically rich base. But instead of using traditional chunks of potatoes, I prefer fluffy potato dumplings mingled with carrots and mushrooms for a modern twist.
For more from Denise Woodward, visit her prolific and delicious blog Chez Us.