This is the season for comfort food, and nothing says comfort like a big pot of stew. In Jewish cuisine, we are familiar with the cholent stew, but stews come in all forms and flavors. Stews are warm and satisfying, hearty and heart-warming. And when a good stew heats up your belly, it can sometimes even comfort the soul and warm the heart.
The difference between a soup and stew.Soup, originally from sop, meant to consume something liquid. Soup is the broth, with other elements like vegetables and protein that can be cooked and served in the broth. Stew comes from a French word meaning cooking cauldron. A stew is a type of dish as well as a cooking method. It is a moist-heat cooking process whereby the meat and vegetables slowly simmer in a flavorful liquid. The difference between a stew and a braise is that a stew usually contains small chunks of meat submerged in liquid, while braised meat is typically a whole roast only partially covered in the braising liquid.
Which meat to stew. Since this is a longer cooking process, the toughest cuts work best: shank, brisket, and chuck are all great. Beef, lamb, veal, and dark-meat chicken all work well in stews, too. Fish is another option, particularly thick meaty steaks like halibut, cod, snapper, or sea bass. Fish cooks relatively quickly so you don’t need to cook it as long as you would stew meat or chicken. A fish stew can be a great option for a quick comforting weeknight dinner. Vegetables can also be stewed for a vegetarian option. Eggplants, tomatoes, cabbage, leeks, and any sturdy green like kale, chard, or collards can be stewed. Ratatouille is a wonderful stewed vegetable dish as well.
How to stew. No matter what your flavor profile, the basics are the same. Begin by dredging chunks of your protein in seasoned flour, which will help to thicken the stew later. Sear the meat on all sides in hot oil in a heavy pot like a Dutch oven. Then cook your veggies, usually a mirepoix consisting of onions, carrots, and celery, plus any other vegetables. Add spices and fresh and dried herbs. Deglaze with your liquid: beef, chicken, or vegetable stock, or wine or beer—whatever your recipe calls for. Cover meat with liquid, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover tightly, and stew on low in the oven till you’ve reached stew perfection. That’s it!
Important points. For a long stew, the vegetables are usually discarded. If you’d like to serve your stew with veggies, add cut-up fresh veggies just for the last 30 minutes of the cooking time to infuse the flavor and maintain their consistency. You can keep some of the stewed vegetables in the sauce and use an immersion blender to purée and thicken the sauce. v
Beef Stew With Butternut Squash, Artichokes,
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter substitute
1 onion, peeled and chopped
¼ cup fresh sage leaves
2 lb. beef stew
flour for dredging
2 parsnips, peeled and quartered
4 carrots, peeled and halved
1 package cubed butternut squash
1 handful Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and halved (optional)
1 lb. baby potatoes
2 Tbsp. tomato purée
½ bottle red wine
10 oz. beef stock
freshly ground pepper
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. rosemary, leaves picked
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy pot. Add onion and sage leaves and cook 3–4 minutes. Meanwhile, dredge meat in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Add it to the pot and sear on all sides. Add vegetables, tomato purée, wine, and stock. Bring to a boil and gently stir. Season with freshly ground pepper and a little salt. Cover with the lid, place in the oven, and cook 3½–4 hours, checking to see meat is tender and there is enough liquid in the pot.
Mix together lemon zest, rosemary, and garlic. Sprinkle a little over each portion of stew right before eating. Serve with some crusty bread or over mashed potatoes or rice.
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