Grab a drink, settle in, and here we go!
The 2010 April Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Wolf of Wolf’s Den. She chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make Brunswick Stew. Wolf chose recipes for her challenge from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt Lee and Ted Lee, and from the Callaway, Virginia Ruritan Club.
I am going to be honest with you. When I first read that our challenge was stew, I was... well, not overly excited. I like stew, don't get me wrong, but I make stew already. Okay, okay, give it a chance, read the recipe. Okay, reading, reading, not your regular beef and root vegetable stew, looks interesting... wait. What is traditional Brunswick Stew made with? What kind of meat? Rabbit. Uh oh. I have never had rabbit before, and feel really, really weird about it. Funny that I don't feel weird about cows or chickens, but rabbits? Yeah... weird. And this was Easter month... Just couldn't eat the Easter Bunny.
But wait. Here is the most awesome part about the Daring Kitchen, and the challenges therein. It is all about learning, it is all about trying new things, and they are totally cool and understanding about modifying recipes for dietary needs, restrictions, and even preferences.
I quickly put my reservations aside and started planning my stew. The first order of business was making stock. If you remember, last month's risotto challenge also called for making stock, so I was much more confident this time, and used some of the tips from the other awesome Daring Cooks. I am really hooked on homemade stock now - so much more rich and flavorful than the boxed or canned stuff. My stock even gelled up a little in the fridge (trust me, that is a good thing), which made me so proud that I had to call my sister (fellow Daring Cook and Baker) just so that someone else could revel in my gell-y stock with me. Yes, we are cooking nerds.
The next step was to decide what kind of meats I was going to use in my stew. Chicken was a given - it is in the recipe and is a standard in this house. But for variety and flavor, I wanted a second kind of meat, too. I didn't find any inspiration in the butcher section of the grocery store, so decided on two pork chop ws that I had wrapped and frozen in the freezer. I took them down and put them into the fridge the day before I was planning on making the stew, and made sure I had a nice, full package of chicken leg quarters, too, since I find dark meat tastiest and most flavorful.
Meats chosen, defrosted and ready to go, it was time to gather my vegetables. The recipe called for a number of root vegetables, including yukon gold potatoes, onions and carrots, which I embellished with a sweet potato, red onion and parsnips. It also called for dried red chiles. Hot! In addition to the vegetables and spices, the stew also called for butter beans, either fresh or frozen. But, going to the grocery store looking for "butter beans," I could only find them canned. Not only did the recipe specify fresh or frozen, but I have been trying to buy less and less canned foods, so when I returned home, I did a bit of research. Went to google, typed in "butter beans," hit enter. First hit - a link called "What are butter beans?" Turns out they are lima beans. Score! Little miss loves lima beans. No, I am not joking. Back to the food store, pick up a bag of dried lima beans, throw them in a pot to soak, and we are rolling.
All ingredients gathered and ready, it was time to start making the stew. Wolf gave two different recipes, one to make the stew a long way, and one to make the stew a short way. I chose the first recipe, to make the stew the long way. Not only did it look like more of a challenge, but it looked more flavorful, so, since I am going to do the challenge, might as well go all in!
The first step was to cook up some cut bacon in the bottom of the pot. Bacon crisped, the pieces are set aside, and the meat, both the chicken and the pork, is browned in the bacon fat at the bottom of the pot, then set aside with the bacon pieces. I always brown my meat for stew, and I love bacon, so I loved the added flavor. At this point, I realized that I was also supposed to quickly heat the chiles in the bacon fat, so I threw those in for a minute. I am not the biggest fan of super-spicy foods, but I have to tell you how delicious those peppers smelled as soon as they touched the heat. Yum.
The remaining steps of the process were straight forward - adding stock, reducing it over the heat a bit, adding the vegetables and meat back to the pot at various times. While it was not overly complicated, it required some time management, effort and attention to make sure that everything made it into and out of the pot at the right times. Once the meat was cooked all the way through, I removed it from the still-simmering stew and shredded it as finely as I could with two forks. The shredded meat was returned to the pot and the stew kept simmering. As I said - not overly complicated, but definitely kept me on my toes throughout much of the process.
The finished stew is very thick and very hearty - thicker than it looks just sitting in the pot! So thick, in fact, that all of the Daring Cooks began posting pictures of their finished stew pots with their spoons standing straight up in the pot. So, of course, I had to take the obligatory spoon-in-pot picture. That spoon stood straight up for long enough for me to take several pictures, put the camera away, wipe the counter... yeah, that's a nice, thick stew. The funniest part of it, though, was little miss's reaction to it. I mean, she thought it was cool and fun to stand a spoon in a pot, but it has sparked in her a desire to test how thick everything is. Mixing cake batter, making pancakes, a bowl of cereal - "Mommy, will the spoon stand up in this?" It is very funny.
While the stew was simmering on the stove top, I decided that I wanted a little something extra with it, so I decided to mix up some drop cornmeal dumplings. These are super easy to make - little miss did most of it for me, from measuring to mixing to grabbing clumps to drop onto the stew. I used the dumpling recipe listed at the bottom of this recipe. After dropping these onto the top of the still simmering stew, I just put the lid on the pot and let the whole thing cook for another 25-30 minutes. It was that easy.
The finished stew looked and smelled so delicious, and the taste did not disappoint at all. I can hardly believe I had been skeptical to try this one. Each spoonful was so hearty and fulfilling and, just, well, yummy. And best of all, everyone liked it. Which is a good thing, because it made a lot. LOTS of leftovers. All three of those takeout soup containers are in the freezer, all ready for dinner on some night when I am too busy or lazy to cook. And also to use in some of the really fun recipes that some of the other Daring Cooks came up with to make use of their leftovers. Interested? Check out the other Daring Cooks!
Thank you, Wolf, for a really great challenge. I am so glad that I learned about this delicious stew, and will definitely be making it again!
1 month ago