The 2010 April Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Wolf of Wolf’s Den. She chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make Brunswick Stew. Wolf chose recipes for her challenge from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt Lee and Ted Lee, and from the Callaway, Virginia Ruritan Club.
Brunswick stew is a richly flavored dish with an incredibly interesting history. It is a specialty of the American South, and if you’d like to know more about it, this article from the New York Times is very informative.
Brunswick stew originated in either Brunswick, Georgia or Brunswick, Virginia (both cities claim “ownership”), but there is no one “right” way to make it. It’s fairly standard to use a tomato base, lots of meat, and vegetables that typically including potatoes, corn and lima beans. The stew is supposed to have a smokey flavor and it is supposed to be very thick. The meat is supposed to be shredded, but I left mine in larger pieces because my son has an aversion of sorts to shredded chicken.
Wolf gave us two recipes to choose from. I chose the “longer one”, which comes from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-be Southerners. Note that the recipe needs to cook for a while, but it is not difficult at all.
I made a few changes to the recipe based on availability of ingredients, a desire to make the stew a bit healthier, and a dislike of lima beans. I halved everything, yet still ended up with a ton of food, so plan accordingly. My changes are below in italics/parentheses.
Recipe for Brunswick Stew
Serves about 12
*4 oz. slab bacon, rough diced (I used organic and uncured pastured bacon)
*2 Serrano chiles, stems trimmed, sliced, seeded, flattened
*1 lb. rabbit, quartered, skinned (I used all natural country style pork ribs instead and chopped them into bite-sized pieces)
*4-5 lb. chicken, quartered, skinned, and most of the fat removed (I used a combination of chicken thighs and drumsticks; I left the skin on and removed it after cooking the stew)
*1 tablespoon sea salt for seasoning, plus extra to taste
*2-3 quarts chicken stock (I used homemade turkey stock)
*2 bay leaves
*2 large celery stalks
*2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, or other waxy type potatoes, peeled, rough diced
*1 ½ cups carrots (about 5 small carrots), chopped (I left mine in fairly large pieces)
*3 ½ cups onion (about 4 medium onions), chopped
*2 cups fresh corn kernels, cut from the cob (I used frozen corn from last summer’s garden)
*3 cups butterbeans/lima beans preferably fresh (1 ¼ lbs) or defrosted frozen (I used frozen organic peas instead)
*one 35 oz. can whole, peeled tomatoes, drained
*¼ cup red wine vinegar
*Juice of 2 lemons
*Tabasco sauce to taste
1. In the largest stockpot you have, preferably a 10-12 qt or even a Dutch oven, fry the bacon over medium-high heat until it just starts to crisp. Transfer to a large bowl, and set aside. Reserve most of the bacon fat in your pan, and with the pan on the burner, add in the chiles. Toast the chiles for about a minute. Remove to bowl with the bacon.
2. Season liberally both sides of the pork and chicken pieces with sea salt and pepper. Place the rabbit/pork in the pot and sear on all sides. You just want to brown them, not cook them completely. Remove to bowl with bacon and chiles, add some olive oil to your pot, then add in chicken pieces, again, browning all sides. Remember not to crowd your pieces, especially if you have a narrow bottomed pot. Put the chicken in the bowl with the bacon, chiles and pork/rabbit. Set it aside.
3. Add 2 cups of your chicken stock to the pan and deglaze, making sure to get all the goodness cooked onto the bottom. The stock will become a nice rich dark color. Bring it up to a boil and let it boil away until reduced by at least half. Add your remaining stock, the bay leaves, celery, potatoes, chicken, pork/rabbit, bacon, chiles and any liquid that may have gathered at the bottom of the bowl they were resting in. Bring the pot back up to a low boil/high simmer, over medium/high heat. Reduce heat to low and cover, remember to stir every 15 minutes, give or take, to thoroughly meld the flavors. Simmer, on low for approximately 1 ½ hours. The stock may take on a yellow tinge with pieces of chicken or pork/rabbit floating up, the celery will be very limp, as will the chiles. Taste the stock; according to the recipe, it “should taste like the best chicken soup you’ve ever had”.
4. With a pair of tongs, remove the chicken and pork/rabbit pieces to a colander over the bowl you used earlier. Be careful, as by this time, the meats will be very tender and may start falling apart. Remove the bay leaf and discard.
5. After you’ve allowed the meat to cool enough to handle, carefully remove all the chicken from the bones, shredding it as you go (I left mine in fairly large pieces, though). Return the meat to the pot. Add in your carrots, and stir gently, allowing it to come back to a slow simmer. Simmer gently, uncovered, for at least 25 minutes, or until the carrots have started to soften.
5. Add in your onion, butterbeans (or lima beans or peas), corn and tomatoes. Crush the tomatoes as you add them. Simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring every so often until the stew has reduced slightly, and the onions, corn and butterbeans/lima beans/peas are tender. Remove from heat and add in vinegar and lemon juice; stir to blend in well. Season to taste with sea salt, pepper, and Tabasco sauce if desired.
6. You can either serve immediately or refrigerate for 24 hours, which makes the flavors meld more and makes the overall stew even better. Serve hot, either on its own, or with a side of corn bread or over steamed rice, and with any braised greens as a side.
I thought this was a delicious dish I will most certainly make again. Next time I’ll make it when it’s cold outside, though, as it’s very hearty.
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