Stews-the Mother of all Comfort Foods

Recipe Links at the Bottom

How many of us have been flooded with wonderful childhood memories triggered by the aroma of a certain smell of food cooking or baking in the kitchen? I have vivid comforting memories of my mom cooking stew on the stove top for hours. That concoction of meat and vegetables simmering in a hearty broth filled the house with a bountiful of aromas. A bowl of stew, nice torn piece of hearty bread, and family and friends sitting around the table hungry as all get-out will make memories last for a lifetime.  

Every region of the world is known for their type stew using indigenous foods from that area of the world. Stews are considered bourgeois cuisine, “foods of the people”. The reason for this is because these one pot concoctions are prepared from less tender cuts of meat such as the shank, neck, front shoulder, and trim that was squared off other prime cuts of meat. We’ve all joked about how bland antler stew tastes and have heard the story of “rock soup”, that basically sums it up in a nutshell. The less tender cuts are the essential protein of the people. We as hunters need to understand how to prepare these less tender cuts, making them more palatable and flavorful, and getting our family members to enjoy as well. Too many hunter’s family members won’t eat venison due to the fact that it tastes too gamey. If handled properly from field to table our game meat will not be tough and will not taste gamey. 

There are basically two types of stews, brown and white stews. Brown stews use red meats, carrots, tomatoes, red wines, brown stocks and sauces. Brown stews are known as Ragout, Ragu, Bourguignonne, and Navarin. White stews are known as Blanquette, they consist of white meats, white mirepoix (white vegetables) white stock, white wines, white roux’s, milk or creams and liaisons. White stews are more delicate in flavor whereas brown stews are more robust. Brown stews consist of red meats that are browned and caramelized, making a heavy fond on the bottom of the pan. (brown dripping cooked to bottom of pot or pan) The onions, celery, and carrots that make up the mirepoix, are browned along with the tomato product. Brown roux is used as a thickening agent and brown stock, sauce, and red wines are used for deglazing the fond from the bottom of the pan, resulting in colorful flavorful dishes.  

The less tender cuts of meat used in Stews are portion size or cut smaller into bite size pieces. This lessens the cooking time and helps keep meat tender. Stews consist of enough liquid for the meat to be submerged, and provides enough cooking liquid to allow for the meat to become tender without evaporating away. I prefer to cook uncovered for multiple reasons. The first is so I can constantly observe without removing the lid. (with exception of Dutch Ovens). The second is that I want the steam to escape rather than condense on the lid and drip back into the pot. Cooking is like hunting we are using our senses, especially smell, taste, visual, touch, and sound. I want to hear the pot “not boiling”, smell the spices, see the pot “not boiling”, taste the broth, and probe the meat to make sure it is fork tender.  

Preparing a brown stew: Choose the correct utensil for the job. The correct size POT for a stew is important. A pot is deeper than it is wide, providing less cooking surface and allows time for the meat to cook before there is too much evaporation.  

Dry meat, make sure the meat is dry and not swimming in blood. The dry meat will caramelize & brown faster. Try to get the meat closer to room temperature, don’t use frozen or ice cold meat. This will cool the pan too fast and prevent browning. 

Hot Pot, make sure the pot is hot, use a small amount of fat or oil. Brown the meat in small batches adding more oil or fat if needed, too much meat at one time will cool the pan. (most common mistake when preparing stews) If the pan cools, the meat sweats in its own juices, we want the juice in the meat not in the pan. When the meat sweats in its own juices this prevents caramelizing & browning and the result will be poor color and flavor.  

Once the meat has been seared, remove and spread out. Do not place in a bowl, if in a bowl, the meat will retain the heat and sweat, thus making a bowl full of meat and juices. We want the juices to stay in the meat, not in the pan or bowl. 

Once the meat has been seared and you have a good buildup of fond on the bottom of the pan now you add the mirepoix (vegetables) lightly brown them, add tomato product, add the meat back to the pot, add flour as thickening agent, coating the meat and vegetables making a roux, (thickening agent) cook this mixture so you don’t get lumps. Now add the liquids to deglaze the pot by adding wine, broth, etc. and stirring as to get the brown off the bottom of the pot. Season and bring to boil, lower to simmer. Cook until fork tender constantly checking flavor and consistency. 

There are many variations to this one pot method. Some people flour and season the meat first (great) others deglaze and then add a brown roux (flour & fat that has been cooked) others add white wash or slurry of flour or cornstarch mixed with liquid. Some people don’t add any thickener, they want their stew on the thin side. These all work, but the main desired outcome should be the same, a flavorful tender game dish that everyone can enjoy. 

When preparing a Blanquette or white stew, it is basically the same with less caramelizing, use white meats, white vegetables such as leeks, celery, and onions, white wines, white stocks, and milk or creams. Classically Blanquettes are finished with a liaison which is one-part egg yolks to three-parts cream. This is added for richness, color, and consistency. If you choose to use liaison make sure not to boil the stew after it has been added.  

Stews are a perfect way to empty your freezer of last year’s game meat, it is not uncommon to make a small game white stew with rabbit, grouse, turkey, and/or pheasant.  

Stews are a one-pot preparation that works great for hunting camps. These one-pot preparations work great in crockpots, Dutch ovens, and to lessen the cooking time, in pressure cookers and insta-pots. Stews can be dressed up to be more elegant by serving in individual crocks and topping with puff pastry, preparing with fancy vegetable cuts and garnishes. For really fast meals, stews can be prepared from canned venison, canned vegetables, and potatoes.  

We would love to see your recipe’s and photos of homemade stews served in camp and/or at home with family and friends. 

Dutch Oven Venison Onion Stew

Bold Red Wine Elk Stew

Venison Ham White Bean Stew

Good Cooking Chef Wutsch 

 

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