Brunswick stew – the perfect cold weather dish

Published 12:00am Saturday, January 9, 2010

I have normally eaten Brunswick stew as a side in a BBQ place. I first encountered it at Parker’s BBQ in Wilson, N.C. When we moved to Alabama, we found camp stew at Green’s in Gantt. I usually cook at home but when I want Brunswick stew/camp stew I get take out at Fireman’s, which is my favorite. At present I don’t have a nearby BBQ joint and I wanted some Brunswick stew so I started looking for a recipe.

There is a lot of controversy over the origins. Both Virginia and Georgia lay claims to be the birthplace. A book of antebellum recipes gathered by a Georgia homemaker gives a recipe for camp stew virtually identical to contemporary Brunswick stew. Early stews seem to all have used squirrel but today chicken is the usual meat. Butterbeans, corn, tomatoes, potatoes and onions are added. In Kentucky, the name is burgoo and includes mutton. Along the east coast the stew is called Brunswick although in South Carolina we have hash and on the coast it is served over rice; in Alabama and Mississippi it is camp stew.

Before being served as a side at a BBQ place, Brunswick stew was served to hunters in camp or at communal gatherings so it is a natural for a large group but I like to freeze my stews if I don’t have a group to serve, and enjoy it later.

I found this recipe in an old Williamsburg cookbook:

CHOWNING’S TAVERN BRUNSWICK STEW

I had to tweak this recipe quite a bit with spices since I thought it was rather bland and I did not cook it for hours like they recommended but only for about two hours

It turned out delicious.

Serves 8-10

1 stewing hen (6 pound) or 2 broiler-fryers (3 pounds each) (I got a fresh young chicken)

2 large onions, sliced

2 cups okra, cut (optional) I did use the okra, I had some frozen for my winter gumbos

4 cups fresh or 2 cans (1 pound each) tomatoes (I used diced tomatoes)

2 cups lima beans

3 medium potatoes, diced

4 cups corn cut from cob or 2 cans (1 pound each)

3 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon pepper (I added 2 hot chiles cut up and more pepper to taste)

1 tablespoon sugar

Cut chicken in pieces and simmer in 3 quarts water for a thin stew, or 2 quarts for a thick stew, until meat can easily be removed from bones, about 2 ½ hours. Remove the chicken, then add the raw vegetables to the broth and simmer, uncovered, until beans and potatoes are tender.

Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.

Add chicken, boned (and diced if desired), and the seasonings.

Note: If canned vegetables are used, include juices and reduce water to 2 quarts for a thin stew, 1 quart for a thick stew.

Also note: Brunswick Stew is one of those delectable things that benefit from long, slow cooking. It is a rule in some homes never to eat Brunswick stew the same day it is made as its flavor improves if it is left to stand overnight and reheated.

I like to top off my bowl with several dashes of Tabasco. Skillet cornbread is not mandatory but it adds a lot.

I was out shopping after Christmas and found another cookbook. As if I don’t have enough, but this one intrigued me as it is a collection of Southern recipes with accompanying stories.

Jean Anderson’s 2007 A Love Affair with Southern Cooking gives this recipe for Brunswick stew for a bigger crowd! Makes 20-25 servings.

1 6-7 lb stewing hen with neck and giblets

1 6 lb beef chuck or rump roast

12 cups (3 qts) cold water

6 large yellow onions, coarsely chopped

18 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

6 cups (3 pts) freshly shelled or frozen baby lima beans (do not thaw)

6 cups (3 pts) canned tomatoes

Kernels from 12 large ears sweet corn or 6 cups (3 pts) frozen whole-kernel corn (do not thaw)

¼ cup sugar

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter

1 tablespoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Simmer the hen, neck, giblets, and beef in the water in a covered large soup kettle over moderately low heat for about 1½ hours or until the hen and beef are both tender.

Lift the beef, hen, neck, and giblets from the kettle and cool until easy to handle. Using your fingers, strip the meat from the hen in bite-size pieces and reserve. Cut the beef into 1½ -inch chunks and reserve; mince the giblets and reserve. Discard the neck.

Skim the fat from the broth and discard. Add the onions, potatoes and limas to the kettle, cover, and simmer over moderate heat for 30 minutes or until not quite tender.

Return all meat to the kettle, add the tomatoes and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Add the corn, sugar and butter, and simmer uncovered, stirring now and then, for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then simmer uncovered 10 minutes more or just long enough for the flavors to mellow.

Ladle into heated bowls and accompany with corn bread.

Keep warm and eat hardy.

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