Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #12: Brunswick Stew

This month's installment of the Weekend Cookbook Challenge is being hosted by Shaun of Winter Skies, Kitchen's Aglow ; giving Sara of I Like to Cook and the normal hostess a much deserved after holiday break. He chose a winter perfect theme of stew! Here at the Sour Dough we are big stew eaters but lately we have been in a stew rut that consists of one type of stew, beef. Sometimes we go crazy and toss a bag of frozen mixed veggies in to the pot but basically our stew consists of huge chunks of beef, potatoes, peas and carrots with a dash of red wine. MBH is always after me to introduce him to "new foods" and I had a ham bone in the freezer I wanted to use. So, I took to my seldom used cookbooks in search of a recipe that would satisfy both needs which I found flipping through the classic Mable Hoffman's Crockery Cookery, Revised Edition in the form of Brunswick Stew. A side story to this whole affair of stew is that preparing the Brunswick Stew resulted in one of the worst kitchen disasters of my thirty-some-odd-years of cooking but more on that later...

Brunswick stew is a classic stew of the southeastern part of the United States and there is a debate where it originated, Brunswick, Georgia or Brunswick County, Virginia. One thing that is not in debate is the historic recipe probably called for the use of both rabbit and squirrel as well as lima beans (or butter beans if you are from the South). Today's recipe calls for two types of meat of which one is normally chicken. The Virginia version always calls for both chicken and ham. Brunswick stew is traditionally cooked in huge stew pots over an open flame like burgoo and served after a long slow simmer, making it a natural stew for the crock pot. Which leads this tale to the kitchen disaster.

I actually made two pots of Brunswick Stew for the WCC. But, due to what can only be termed as a "bone-headed move", we only ate one pot of Brunswick Stew! The first pot of stew ended up in the garbage after I forgot to plug in the crock pot before going to work. Yup, you read that right. I forgot to plug in the crock pot. For ten long hours a crock pot full of chicken stock, raw chicken thighs, a huge ham bone, potatoes, and onions sat on my counter and did Lord only knows what. Imagine our surprise when we got home expecting those wonderful smells emanating from the kitchen in a way only cooking with a crock pot can provide and smelling...nothing. Not a thing. I dropped my briefcase and computer bag and hurried to the kitchen to find the crock pot stone cold. I checked the temperature and saw it was on low and assumed our lovely crock pot had died. It was only after several minutes did I notice the little white plug sitting beside the pot, unplugged. Now for the second "bone-headed move". MBH was sure it would be ok. "Just plug it in and let it cook overnight", he suggested. I don't know what possessed me to listen to that advice. Maybe it is the frugal cook who grew up in a home where we were admonished to not waste food. Whatever it was, it got the better of me because I plugged the crock pot in, rummaged in the freezer for a frozen pizza for dinner, and sulked through the rest of night. The next morning, I knew the stew was no good. There was a strange smell to the stew and the meat just looked all wrong. I pulled out two strong kitchen trash bags and tossed the contents of the crock pot into the bags and into the garbage determined that I would not fail with Brunswick Stew.

The following weekend I tried again. Since it was the weekend and I was home putting the final touches on the Christmas baking, I decided to pull out the enamel stew pot and make this on the stove top using the recipe from Crockery Cookery as a base. Two pounds of chicken parts, two large ham steaks, and another six cups of chicken stock later we had fabulous tasting Brunswick Stew.
Brunswick Stew

MBH wanted noodles and I wanted dumplings so I made some fat and thick homemade egg "nooplings" to add to the stew. By adding them the last thirty minutes of simmering the flour worked as a thickening agent. The result, a wonderfully smokey tasting stew to warm us on a cold winter's day. This recipe is going into rotation for a repeat sometime very soon and the "stew slump" at the Sour Dough is over...

Brunswick Stew
adapted from Mable Hoffman's Crockery Cookery

1 2-3lb chicken cut up (I used boneless breasts and thighs)
2 1/2lb ham steaks cubed
2 quarts chicken stock
3 Tablespoon salted butter
1 medium onion coarsely chopped
3 medium potatoes cubed in large pieces
2 16 oz. cans of diced tomatoes
1 12 oz package of frozen lima beans (I used a 10oz bag of mixed vegetables)
1 10 oz package of frozen corn
2 tsp salt 1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp sugar
4 cups homemade egg noodles or dumplings (optional)

In stew pot, on medium heat, melt butter and saute onions until golden, add ham and brown. Take pot off heat and add cut up chicken, chicken stock, and potatoes to onions and ham. Return to low heat and cover. Let simmer for 2-4 hours until chicken is fully cooked and shreds into large pieces. Add tomatoes, frozen vegetables, salt and pepper. Allow to cook for 1-2 more hours at a simmer tasting often and adding salt and/or pepper as desired (careful with the salt, the slow cooking of the ham will add quite a bit of saltiness). 30 minutes before serving, add noodles or dumplings and let cook until noodles/dumplings are cooked. Serve hot in soup crocks with collard greens.