What Are the Different Types of Stew Meat?
For many folks the world over, stew is the ultimate comfort food. Nearly every home cook has mastered a stew recipe or two, often based upon a recipe they inherited themselves. Americans think of beef first when they imagine stew meat, but just as popular in other parts of the world are fish, shellfish, and chicken as well as stronger-flavored stew meat such as pork, lamb, and even goat. Since ancient times, hunters have brought home wild game, much of which has also jumped into the stew pot.
For the best beef stew, the cook needs to select stew meat that contains a good amount of fat as well as connective tissue. During cooking, the connective tissue breaks down and thickens the sauce with a rich, almost velvety consistency. Some cooks swear that beef ribs make the most delectable stew, while others prefer beef cut from chuck, plate, or shank. A true stew combines all ingredients and cooks them together with liquid of some kind in an open pot. Many home cooks prefer to braise the meat in a lidded pot separately for a long time over low heat then add it to vegetables that have been prepared in another pot for a final cooking as this marries layers of distinct flavors rather than melding them into one.
Cooks with a source of wild game can cook Brunswick stew, which traditionally contains squirrel and onion in addition to tomatoes, beans, corn, and other vegetables. Many diners refuse to eat squirrel; rabbit or chicken make acceptable substitutes because both are mildly flavored. As with other stews, Brunswick stew is good the day it is made and better still after a day or two.
One nice thing about stew is that, even when it’s composed of leftovers, the final dish is far greater than the sum of the individual parts. Meat lovers or anyone with an abundance of veggies can compose Burgoo, which contains a mix and match of meats such as beef, pork, or lamb and poultry, like chicken or turkey. Root veggies like potatoes and onions are de rigueur, and autumn offerings including carrots, lima beans, and cabbage result in a hearty meal.
Not to be outdone, the ocean offers its own variety of stew meat. French bouillabaisse begins with a liquid base of olive oil and white wine then adds any combination of fish that might be available. Shrimp, lobster, and clams, as well as squid or octopus, are also welcome to join la célébration, which is perfected with a little garlic and expensive, though fabulous, saffron. The Italians have their own marvelous version called cioppino. This seafood stew is simpler and includes tomatoes, olive oil, and a number of herbs and spices as the cook desires.
I'll often cook stew meat or fish with a bundle of herbs and maybe some stock powder and then add it back to the main meal after it has been cooked. If it's something like corn beef or a strong tasting fish it's going to completely overwhelm the other flavors if you keep it in the main pot the whole time.
It's also good to stew a big chunk of meat and then keep some aside when you're adding the rest to the main meal, so you can make sandwiches and things from it the next day.
@Mor - I do roughly the same, except I skip the noodles and add quinoa when I put in the meat, with just enough water that it will boil down by the time it's finished.
But there are a hundred different ways to stew meat. My mother makes this delicious pepper steak stew with bean sprouts and tomatoes and courgettes and my grandmother makes a lamb stew that is close to being my favorite meal of all time (and for which she won't give up the recipe!).
I'm fairly easy going when it comes to stews. I basically do the same thing every time, which sounds boring, but it uses up all the extras I have in the cupboard.
First I fry some onions, which is an important step. If you don't fry them until they start going clear, they'll be crunchy rather than soft in the stew. This also brings out their flavor more. If I feel like it I add herbs and garlic at the tail end of this part.
Then I add the meat. I'll even add it frozen, if I have to, because it will cook all the way through by the time it's finished anyway. If it's not frozen I might brown it, but you don't have to do this. Basically, at this point you add the broth (I usually use chicken stock, but with enough onions you can even just use water) and then let it simmer for a couple of hours, more or less. Just keep poking the meat and when it starts to get tender that's when you add the vegetables. Whatever you have lying around. Wait until they are almost cooked then add some kind of starch, like noodles or pasta. Voila you have a one pot meal.
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