The Alaska days are getting longer. The sun is still up as I leave the clinic at 4:30, a nice change from just a few weeks ago. But there’s a hard frost on the ground most mornings, and we’re nowhere near spring temps yet.
So while spring is on the calendar’s horizon, it’s not quite here in person. I wear my favorite cozy sweaters, and plan hearty dinners that feed the body and comfort the soul.
One of my favorites is an old traditional stew, one of those Southern staples that has a million different recipes, all labeled “Brunswick Stew,” but really representing a variety of regional dishes, with everything from chicken to pork to beef to squirrel (does anyone eat squirrel now?) complete with a range of vegetables.
To be fair, I think the recipes with squirrel are mostly from a century or so back. 🙂 (My dad used to hunt squirrels sometimes, and he ate them too. He grew up in the country, and I guess squirrels were a delicacy in his youth.)
My version of this stew is one I inherited through marriage. My husband’s maternal grandmother, “Mom-mom,” used to make this dish, and I make it like she did. At least, I think I do. I don’t know that I ever saw the written recipe, but I watched her make it in my early years of marriage, and I try to re-create the flavors I remember from years ago.
I can give you a list of ingredients, and some general direction. After that, this recipe is mostly trial and error, and personal taste is critical in finding just the right balance of seasonings and heat.
Brunswick Stew, from Mary Downer
- Boneless beef roast (or I sometimes use good quality beef stew cuts)
- 2 stalks celery, finely diced
- 1 medium sweet onion, finely diced
- 1 or 2 cans Le Sueur peas
- 1 or 2 cans premium creamed corn
- 4 or 5 russet potatoes, peeled and small dice
- Worcestershire sauce, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
- Salt, to taste
- Heinz Ketchup, to taste
- Tabasco sauce, to taste
Method: I like to crock pot the beef until it’s fall-apart tender. Season beef with salt and pepper, add water to cover, and set the crockpot to high. I usually cook the meat a few hours, check to see if it easily shreds, and when it does, it’s done. You can section the meat and pulse it a few times in a food processor if you want. If you use beef stew cuts, the beef will “self-shred” as you add the other ingredients and stir as the stew comes together. Either is fine, choose what you like, depending on how finely you want the meat to be shredded. (The shredded texture is one of the signatures of this dish, this is not a stew with the traditional large chunks of meat. Also, many recipes use a mix of beef and pork, or pork and chicken. I don’t ever recall this family recipe with anything other than beef, but you can mix it up if you like.)
After the beef is cooked, remove the meat and strain the broth, reserving the broth for the stew. If you’re shredding the cooked beef in a processor, this is the time to do that. Place the prepared meat in a dutch oven on top of your range, and add the other ingredients: celery, onion, canned vegetables, and the potatoes. I like to start with one can each of the veggies, you can always add the second one if you choose. (Usually I prefer fresh or frozen vegetables, but trust me, canned is perfect here.) I judge the amount of vegetables to add based on the meat/veg ratio; make your stew to your preference. You’ll see this makes a large quantity when you get everything in the pot. It’s a good choice for a group, or for a week when you want easy leftovers.
When all the vegetables are in, begin adding the Worcestershire sauce and the ketchup. You’re going to want a lot of ketchup, I have easily used a whole bottle, and probably a third to half a bottle of Worcestershire. (Sorry, I never saw Mom-mom measure this…you have to taste your way through this dish!) You can add reserved broth from the meat to thin the stew if you like.
Here’s the reason for the ketchup: it’s sweeter than tomato paste or sauce, and the little bit of sweetness is perfect here. Don’t worry, it’s offset by the Worcestershire sauce. You’re looking for a reddish-brown color after you add the ketchup, this dish will not look like a red pasta sauce. You don’t want it to be too thick or thin, so add a bit of the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and the beef stock in increments, and give it a few minutes for flavors to blend before you sample. (You can add Tabasco sauce also if you like. For me, that’s an individual add-at-the-table option.)
When I think the seasoning is about right, I put the whole thing the oven, 350 degrees, to cook down a bit.
I love to make this on Saturday, and let it just simmer away. Give it a stir now and then, add a bit more of whatever you think it needs, and wait impatiently for dinner. After a few hours, you have the perfect winter dish…delicious, hearty, warm, and all you need to add for a complete meal is a spoon. A crusty bread and salad are good too.
Here’s to winter feasting!