Stews have been around since cooking came to be– which as you can imagine is a very long time. Similar to soups, it became more prevalent in the diet of early man with the invention of pots and discovery of fire.
Since then, early humans were cooking meats and vegetables in water. The difference between soup and stew? We’ll they are basically the same. But stews have less liquid than soups and usually take longer to cook since the meat is simmered until tender. Because of these two characteristics stews are tastier, heartier and richer in flavor compared to soups. They are usually served with loaves of bread and dairy products like cheese.
Almost all stew recipes from around the world, have 3 common ingredients:
- Meat – Usually dark meats are used such as beef or lamb but white meats like pork, chicken, fish, and seafood are also used. The meats are usually cut in chunky sizes.
- Vegetables – Hard vegetables like potatoes, carrots, celery, root crops, beans, onions, and legumes are usually included in stews depending on what is available in the region.
- Herbs and Spices – A handful of herbs and spices are added to make the stew flavorful. Most commonly used herbs are: pepper, bay leaves, rosemary, parsley, thyme, and oregano. For spices, cumin, coriander, anise, and cinnamon are add depth of flavor and fragrance.
Tips on Cooking Method
Here are some tips to help you achieve that perfect stew.
Browning the meats of your stew will give it a different flavor which cannot be achieved by herbs and spices. The proteins and sugar caramelize creating that layer on the meat that seals in the juices of the beef. Browning also creates caramelization on the pan, which are flavor gems for your stew.
Don’t crowd your meet, cook them in batches if you have to. Let each have their intimate time with the heat of the pan.
Get the most of the meat caramelization that come from browning your meats. After removing your browned meat from the pot, pour some stock or water into the pan and scrape the caramelized morsels that settled on the pan after browning. You won’t regret it, promise.
You know that saying, “stew in in own juices”? Well, it also applies to achieving a good stew. Cook your stew, low and slow. This not only enhances the flavor of your stew but also tenderizes the meat and vegetables while allowing them to soak in the flavor of your sauce.
How to thicken stew?
There are times when simmering your stew is not enough to get that thick, rich, and luscious consistency. Here are some tips from wikihow.com on how to thicken stew:
1. Add a slurry made of cornstarch, corn flour or flour
Mix a tablespoon of corn flour and a table spoon of water to make a paste or slurry. Add this to your stew until it’s fully incorporated. Let it simmer cook for 2 minutes on medium heat.
2. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs
Add them directly in small portions to your stew. Check the consistency after a few minutes. Don’t add too much, it may alter the taste.
3. Add mashed potato
Add some mashed potatoes to your stew and mix it well. Check the consistency and repeat if it still needs more thickening. You can also sprinkle mashed potato flakes instead.
4. Get some oats in
Put a tablespoon of oats into your stew. Wait a few minutes and check the consistency. You may add more but not too much as the taste of your stew may be altered.
5. Roux it up
Add equal parts of butter and flour to a clean pan. Heat over medium stirring constantly to prevent burning. Cook it for approximately 10 minutes, it should have a brownish-red color. Add small amounts of it to your stew and mix thoroughly. Let it simmer and repeat if necessary.
6. Puree to save the day
Puree a portion of your stew specifically some of the veggies and the watery soup in a blender. Then add it back to your stew. Let it cook for a few minutes and repeat if necessary.
7. Boil with Lid-off
You can also remove excess liquid by boiling your stew – lid-off so extra liquids can evaporate. Stir constantly to prevent the bottom from burning.
What to serve with stews
Stews are a masterpiece on their own, all you need is a blank palate canvas to soak all that goodness. Here are some side dishes best served with stews.
- French Baguette or Dinner Rolls – the spongy nature of bread acts as a beautiful contrast. You can and you will want to literally clean your plate of stew with these two.
- Creamy Polenta, couscous, or risotto – Their neutral buttery taste will nicely complement the richness of your stew. Unlike breads with have firmer texture, these give you creaminess which is also yumminess.
- Rice – Any kind of rice will complement your stew and give you a really filling meal. For healthier alternatives, you can also serve quinoa or cauliflower rice.
- Pita – These are chewy and spongy so they are also perfect to scooping up the rich sauce of your stew. In the Middle East, they serve this with their stew dishes as well.
- Orzo – Orzo is a pasta that resembles rice in shape but it’s just slightly bigger. Some Mediterranean stews are served with this pasta. It’s a healthier alternative to rice.
To the Pots!
There are lots of recipes out there on stews that you can try. Now that you are armed with this knowledge of stew, I think you are prepared to venture into making it at home.
- Simple Classic Beef Stew – Try this classic stew recipe from tasteofhome.com
- Chili Con Carne Recipe – Try this recipe from bbcgoodfood.com.
- Chicken Tikka Masala (Indian Stew) – Try this recipe from cafedelites.com
- Osso Bucco – If you want something fancy, try making this oxtail recipe from finecooking.com