Since humans could put heat to food, there has been stew.*
The mixing of various meat and vegetables to water in a slow, low heat preparation has existed in recorded history since at least the 8th century BCE, but surely well before that.
The Bible mentions stew in the book of Genesis as symbol of identity and promise.
The cultural image of stew is a confirmation in the wide bounty that has been gathered, vegetation and animal alike to bring together a filling meal. It beckons to hearth and home, to cold nights and warm rooms filled with the aromas of savory components.
Which is why it’s such a heartbreaker to admit that most stews aren’t so great. That is to say, they aren’t good at all. In fact, they are bad.
More recently, the stew has become a “single pot” meal that is tied to ease of creation. It is the working families quick answer to a home cooked meal.
- Step 1: Throw food pieces into a pot.
- Step 2: Add water to baptize.
- Step 3: Click over to low heat.
- Step 4: Eat in 8 hours.
The end result is a monochrome, single flavored bowl of warm. A rushed combination of most anything from the fridge and pantry to make a meal out of convenience.
Again, I say; Yum.
The stew is a type of meal that should highlight each component, while using each component to maximize the flavor of its comrades in broth. The vegetables should highlight the meat, the meat should be a carrier of both broth and spice, which in turn create a blend that makes the potatoes a useful wing
man person in the overall texture and flavor experience (and not just a juice sponge).
As always, king nerd of the cooks, Alton Brown, offers an excellent approach to how one optimizes stew in an age of “throwing it all in one pot”.
Yeah, this approach requires more time on the front end, and yes, it requires a skill in what is needed/necessary and what is unhelpful/redundant. It will take some thought and intention, but in the end, a well curated stew is a true testament to an excellent meal; one that you will be happy to return to in the future.**
So, choose the meat well, and sear it! Pick the best potatoes to be vessels of flavor and partners in the eating experience. Don’t let your carrots turn to orange mush, varied textures are essential to good eating! Use kosher salt! Grind your spices at home, don’t let some machine in some far away place do it for you!
You’ll find your entire meal experience to be much greater if you take the time to work towards a better method of stewing. Your tastebuds and full belly will thank you.
*This is an editorial on the poor use of the internet and social media, and nothing else.
**You may also change out all of the references to stew with nachos, if you wish.