Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Daring Stew

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. You can find both recipes here once the links are up.
My initial thought was to deconstruct the stew as a way to step up the challenge (and to work on our plating skills which remain weak, on the order of pathetic). The Monkey disagreed, though, convinced that we couldn’t properly deconstruct something if we didn’t even know what it was.
He eventually prevailed, and we ultimately followed the Lee Brothers’ recipe, with a few modifications. Before we get into the details, let’s say up front that the stew was quite good. In my mind, stew = dark, beefy, gravy-y stuff that you eat on really cold nights. I can’t say I’d run for Brunswick Stew on a really hot night, but it was so much lighter and full of vegetables than we had expected. I can see us making this again in the summer when the vegetables in this recipe are in season (and since summer in San Francisco is usually cooler than you’d expect!)
OK, back to the recipe. For starters, we halved it and still seemed like there was enough to serve 12 - even though the original recipe ostensibly serves 12. It did fill our crock-pot nearly to the brim.

Brunswick Stew

Serves about 12
2 oz or about 3-4 strips home-cured bacon, roughly diced
2 Serrano, Thai or other dried red chiles, minced (we used 1 dried Pasilla pepper in ours)
1/2 lb Rabbit, quartered, skinned (here we used Veal Stew as it is easier to scale than rabbit and we thought it would have a similar texture/flavor profile)
1 whole chicken breast, cut into 2 pieces
1 1/2 Tsp salt or to taste 
1 – 1 1/2  quarts Chicken Broth 
1 Bay leaf 
1 large celery stalk, sliced (we used 2
1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes,  peeled and roughly diced 
3/4 cup carrots, chopped (we used a dozen or so whole baby carrots)
2 medium onions, chopped 
1 cup fresh corn kernels, cut from the cob (this time of year?? Sadly, we used canned) 
1 1/2 cups  butterbeans, preferably fresh (we substituted a jar of Gigantes in Tomato Sauce from Trader Joe’s for both this and the tomato below)
1 14 oz can tomatoes, drained 
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar (we did not use this, can only follow a recipe for so long to the extent we follow them at all… )
Juice of 1 lemon (we did not use)
Tabasco sauce to taste
1-In the largest stockpot you have, 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 chilies. Toast the chiles until they just start to smell good, or make your nose tingle, about a minute tops. Remove to bowl with the bacon. We made our stew in the crock-pot, so fried the items in a skillet, then threw them in the pot.
2- Season liberally both sides of the rabbit and chicken pieces with sea salt and pepper. Place the rabbit pieces in the pot and sear off all sides possible. You just want to brown them, not cook them completely. Remove to bowl with bacon and chiles, add more bacon fat if needed, or olive oil, or other oil of your choice, then add in chicken pieces, again, browning all sides nicely. 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 rabbit. Set it aside.
3- Add 2 cups of your chicken broth or stock, if you prefer, to the pan and basically deglaze the pan, making sure to get all the goodness cooked onto the bottom. The stock will become a nice rich dark color and start smelling good. 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, 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 1½ hours. Supposedly, the stock may become yellow-tinged with pieces of chicken or rabbit floating up, the celery will be very limp, as will the chilies. Taste the stock, according to the recipe, it “should taste like the best chicken soup you’ve ever had”. We started with a rich stock, so didn’t bother to reduce, just put all these ingredients in the crock pot and cooked for ~4 hours. We lightly sautéed the onion and put it in at this point as well.
4- With a pair of tongs, remove the chicken and 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, celery, chiles, bacon and discard. Discard the bacon??? That’s heresy in this house. We left all these bits in as they were too small and/or too delicious to take out.
5 After you’ve allowed the meat to cool enough to handle,  carefully remove all the meat brunswick_shred_web_smallfrom the bones, shredding it as you go. Return the meat to the pot, throwing away the bones. 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, corn and tomatoes. Simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring every so often until the stew has reduced slightly, and onions, corn and butterbeans are tender. Remove from heat and add in vinegar, lemon juice, stir to blend in well. Season to taste with sea salt, pepper, and Tabasco sauce if desired. The daring cooks were pretty evenly divided over whether the vinegar and lemon made the dish or ruined it. Taste before you proceed on that one. Both times we made the dish, we forgot completely about them, so can’t really say much aside from it tasted good without the acid.
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, over steamed white rice, with any braised greens as a side. It really was better the next day.
We served our stew in Sourdough Corn Bread Bowls,cornbread_web_small a recipe from  fellow Daring Cook Susan at Wild Yeast. These were great, though the ones we made were a mite small for a reasonable bowl of stew. We’ll definitely make this bread again.

Here is the finished dish:

Brunswick Stew Redux

– this time deconstructed!
OK, I am nothing if not persistent. We made a second version of the stew, but it was not a stew; depending on how you look at it, this dish either captures the essence of Brunswick stew or totally misses the point. Nevertheless, it was delicious as well, with a fresh succotash, bacon-wrapped chicken and rabbit rillettes on a potato cake. The Monkey concocted a chicken-tomato-chile sauce that was intended to provided the same rich flavor profile as the original recipe:

Monkey’s Not So Secret Sauce

6 scallions brunswick2_sauce_web_small
1 small carrot
1 rasher home-cured bacon
1 dried morita chile
2 tsp double concentrated tomato puree
2 cups homemade chicken broth
1 tsp cornstarch
Finely chop the onions, carrot and bacon and fry over medium heat until soft and slightly browned (add a little olive oil if the bacon is lean). Mix in the tomato puree, then transfer to a small saucepan with the chicken broth. Toast the chile on all sides, then add to the sauce. Simmer everything until reduced to about 1/2 – 3/4 cup, then remove from the heat and cool. Remove the chile and strain out the carrots, onions and bacon (I know – heresy!!!), pressing them through a sieve to get out as much of the tasty goodness as possible. Mix the cornstarch with a little of the sauce, then blend in to the rest of the sauce, stirring until thickened.
Here is an outline of how we made the rest of the dish:
Potato cake: Slice 4 Yukon Gold potatoes thinly and place in layers in a skillet, interspersing the layers with a little milk and butter. Cover with foil and bake in a 450 oven for 20 minutes, then (leaving the foil in place) squash the potatoes down into a compact layer and cook for a further 15 minutes.
Rabbit Rillettes: We followed a recipe from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cookbook. (To be honest, we made this for a separate meal several weeks ago and had enough left over for this). We reheated it in a skillet before plating.
Succotash: We used peas, corn and fresh garbanzo beans/chick peas; parboil the vegetables for a minute or so, then strain and sauté lightly in a little oil, adding salt and pepper to taste. We had some nice fresh basil so added that as well.  
Baby Carrots: Scrub clean and steam until tender.
Chicken: Wrap chicken breasts in thin slices of pancetta and fry on all sides until cooked through, about 12 minutes in all. Keep the pan covered (apart from when you turn them over) so that the chicken breasts don’t dry out.
Slice into medallions to serve:


  1. Wow, you went all out on this month's challenge! I love the serving idea of the breadbowls and your deconstructed version is inspired. Well done!

  2. I am with you - this was totally different from my usual thought of "stew," but it was tasty, and I am so glad to have a different stew to add to my repertoire! I love your deconstructed one - it looks so cool! And those sourdough corn bread bowls? Look AMAZING. I will definitely try those one day!! Awesome job on the challenge.

  3. You really did a good job with this month's challenge. Everything looks so good.

  4. this is amazing. love what you did.

  5. Wow! You really went all out. Everything looks great. I agree that I will not be making this is hot weather again- it's really a cool weather dish- but who knew it would be 90 degrees in NY in April this year?

  6. WOW I love both versions but the deconstructed one really appeals to me. Superb effort on this challenge. And yes this a cold weather stew but it is getting to autumn here in Australia. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  7. I love the idea of making your own bacon. It must taste wonderful. Great job!

  8. Wow I love your stew in the sourdough cornread bowl, looks so yummy!!

  9. I love the deconstructed version you dod! It looks great! }:P

    I'm going to have to try this in my crockpot sometime myself.}:P

  10. Both versions look delicious but I as I have had the stew, your de-constructed take has my full attention. Love rillette and would like to try over a dish similar to potatoes anna. Nice work.

  11. You put so much thought into this challenge, well done, and I just love how you served it, what a great idea!

  12. Bread bowls! Deconstructed stew! I love your interpretation of the challenge. :)

  13. I agree about the bacon.:D

    I love your creativity specially the deconstructed version. It look yummy.:)

  14. While the traditional version is yummy looking and sounding, the deconstructed version is brilliant! Looks really pretty, too.

  15. I think you're right a half batch would still feed 12. How fun that you did your yummy deconstructed version after all.