Hearty Fall Stew Recipes

Take the chill off a fall evening with a rich, meaty, stew, including fall stew recipes for cider, chicken peanut, brunswick, beer-drinkers', Irish, rabbit and wine and mulligatawny stews.


| September/October 1988



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Take the chill off autumn evenings with a rich, meaty stew.


PHOTO: AL CLAYTON

These rich, meaty fall stew recipes will keep you filled and warm during the coming cold fall months. 

Hearty Fall Stew Recipes

ON WEEKENDS WE SLEEP LATER, move slower, breathe deeper. We catch up with small chores, with last week's newspapers, with each other. We have time for food that can't be hurried: for bread that needs to rise, meat that needs to marinate, stews that need to simmer. And we have all afternoon to savor the rich, warm aromas that fill the house.

Stews are not fast food, at least not in their initial preparation. Because the meat must flavor a large volume of liquid, it needs to cook longer than is strictly required for doneness. But recipes can be doubled and the extra portions refrigerated or frozen, then reheated quickly on a fast-paced weeknight. Since most stews improve after sitting awhile, complaints about leftovers are rare.

Anyone who can boil water can add some meat and vegetables and end up with a stew. Of course, boiling hasn't always been so easy. While some prehistoric cook could have discovered the process of roasting by accidentally dropping a piece of meat in the fire, hot water is rare in nature. Since producing it requires containers that are both heatproof and waterproof, archaeologists long assumed that the stewing of food had to await the invention of pottery. But it now appears that humans boiled food earlier, in the shells of tortoises, turtles and large mollusks, or by digging a hole, lining it with overlapping flat rocks and clay to prevent leakage, filling it with water, and dropping in stones heated in the fire. As the food cooked, more hot rocks were added to keep the temperature high.

These days, boiling is so basic a skill that the inability to do it is the hallmark of culinary incompetence. ("I don't know how he survives; he can't even boil water.") And, in fact, timing and temperature control are less important than in baking and frying. Oil, for example, can vary widely and dangerously in temperature; maintaining an even heat requires a good thermometer and constant attention. On the other hand, water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, and no matter how long or how hard it boils, it will never get any hotter. (Actually, the boiling point may vary by a degree or two with passing high- or low-pressure fronts, and it drops about two degrees for every 1,000 feet of elevation above sea level. But the principle that the boiling point is the peak temperature remains true.) In short, it's hard to burn a stew without evaporating all the liquid in the pot-which requires remarkable negligence or spectacular distractions.

As food scientist Harold McGee has pointed out, the heat threshold of water explains why the first step in stew making is to brown some of the ingredients in oil. The molecular chain reaction we know as browning, which produces rich, intense flavors, is triggered at about 310 degrees Fahrenheit. With a maximum temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, boiled food will remain forever pale and bland. Meat, flour, and vegetables such as onion and garlic should be browned in hot fat before any liquid is added to the pan and effectively stops the browning process. If browning is done in a separate frying pan, the skillet should be deglazed with some of the stewing liquids, to get all the rich flavors. ("Deglazing" means transferring the meat and vegetables to the stewpot, adding some stewing liquid to the frying pan, scraping up any brown bits remaining on the bottom, then pouring the liquid into the stewpot.)





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