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Tasty stew doesn't have to be cooked all day

These days, a slew of recipes play fast and loose with our notion of stew.

Some don't have meat, owing to the rise of vegetarians, devotees or dabblers. Other recipes don't even require all-day cooking, which seems like the hallmark of any stew. Still others, like the one for Thai-Style Pork Stew that accompanies this story, don't seem like stew at all because there isn't much liquid in the finished product. Not to say they aren't all flavorful, but they fly in the face of convention.

The difference between soup and stew is, in general, the amount of liquid left at the end of cooking. Soup tends to be more brothy, but the line is still pretty fine. Rachael Ray famously makes "stoup," a linguistic mashup that describes a super-chunky soup.

With St. Patrick's Day coming Sunday and the end to chilly nights soon to follow, I figured I better start heating up the kitchen with a long-cooked stew. Irish Stew came to mind first, which is generally made by adding dark Guinness beer to the burbling melange. On the heels of Tampa Bay Beer Week, I was over beer, so I found a recipe that called for a bottle of wine; I used a peppery zinfandel. The red wine makes the recipe more French than Irish, but nevertheless it was hearty and delicious. Potatoes, carrots, onions and peas plus Worcestershire sauce bring it all to life. (I guess I'll be making the required corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day.)

Also different about this Ina Garten stew recipe is that the beef is marinated overnight before dusting with flour and browning. I opted for a boneless chuck roast that I cubed myself rather than buying the stew meat. The wine left from marinating goes into the pot, too.

Another thing that separates stew from soup: It's more about braising than boiling, and in fact, it should never be roiling on the stove. The high heat doesn't help tenderize meat and causes more delicate ingredients to cook quickly and fall apart. Cooking in layers at a slower heat adds more flavor, which is the case with many stew recipes. The meat is browned, onions and other aromatics sauteed after the meat and then the fond — those tasty bits on the bottom of the pan — are loosened by liquid. Everything goes back into the pot, including seasonings, and then the elements cook in the moist heat. It's the perfect technique for tougher, cheaper cuts of meat.

In the end, I had a rich, flavorful beef stew that actually tasted better the next day and still better the day after that. Heavy meat stews tend to bloom with a few days' age, which is why you can never have too much. Leftovers are good for workday lunches or to take to the neighbors.

Making a muddle

I was inspired by a recipe from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, by brothers Ted and Matt Lee, to make a "muddle" — that's a North Carolina coastal term — that they call Fish Stew Man's Red Fish Stew. I did some tinkering and have rechristened it Cod and Corn Stew (though it could easily be called chowder). In our parts, red fish, means, well, redfish, a type of drum that swims in the shallows near mangroves, so the name threw me. In the Lee brothers' recipe, which suggests using spottail bass or sheepshead, the word "red" describes the color of the stew, thanks to the tomatoes in the mix.

Any white, flaky fish will do, even mangrove snapper, which is often available at local fish markets and occasionally at grocery stores. I used cod because I like it. One caveat: Do not let the fish "stew" too long. It will fall apart and become a mushy mess. I want to see chunks of fish. This stew is better eaten as soon as it's ready.

Also, the original recipe calls for mustard and coriander seeds to be pounded in a mortar and pestle to a fine powder. I did this and kept thinking about my college pal Gina who used to say if we did more cooking where we had to use our muscles — like kneading bread — we'd get out our aggressions and the world would be a more peaceful place. That was in the 1970s when we thought about such things and I do agree that vigorously twisting the pestle in the mortar for a good 10 minutes was indeed a stress reliever. Plus, I now know where I stashed this low-tech grinding device.

However, it would be fine to substitute ground mustard and coriander. The seeds offer more intense flavor and are likely fresher, but with all the other ingredients in the pot, I am not sure most eaters will taste the difference. I'll do that next time and suggest that you make the substitution if you tackle the fish stew. My changes are reflected in the recipe.

Stew, Asian style

The third recipe, a peanut-butter-spiked Thai mixture, was served over rice and seemed more stir-fry than stew. It was initially meant for a slow cooker but I used a pork tenderloin, so it didn't need long, slow cooking to make it tender.

I recommend using low- or no-sodium ingredients for the stew liquid. The combination of chicken broth, teriyaki sauce, vinegar and peanut butter can pack an unwanted sodium punch if all are full throttle. The tender pork mixture is topped with sliced scallions and peanuts — go lightly salted there too.

Two out of the three recipes with this story stretch the limits of stew, but that doesn't mean they aren't worth trying. The fish stew especially is a good warm-weather entree, because of the lighter ingredients and the shorter cooking time.

And we've got plenty of spots on the calendar for that kind of cooking, don't we?

Times senior photo editor Patty Yablonski contributed to this story. Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8586. Follow her on Twitter at @roadeats.

>>MODERATE

Beef Stew

2 ½ pounds good-quality chuck beef, cut into 1 ¼-inch cubes

1 (750-ml bottle) good red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon

3 whole garlic cloves, smashed

3 bay leaves

6 ounces bacon, cut in 1-inch pieces

All-purpose flour

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Good olive oil

2 cups chopped yellow onions

2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut diagonally in 1 ½-inch chunks

1 pound small potatoes, halved or quartered

1 (14 ½-ounce can) beef stock

1 large (2 small) branch fresh rosemary

½ cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and sliced

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas, not petite

Place the beef in a bowl with the red wine (I use a good one since it's an important flavor), whole garlic, and bay leaves. Place in the refrigerator and allow to marinate overnight.

The next day, preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Brown the bacon in a large (12-inch) saute pan for 5 to 7 minutes, over medium-low heat. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset. Combine 2 cups of flour, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon pepper. Lift the beef out of the marinade and discard the bay leaves and garlic, saving the marinade. In batches, dredge the cubes of beef in the flour mixture and then shake off the excess. In the saute pan, brown half the beef over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, turning to brown evenly. Place the beef in the Dutch oven with the bacon and continue to brown the remaining beef, placing it all in the Dutch oven.

Lower the heat to medium-low, add the onions to the saute pan, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the carrots and potatoes and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Place all the vegetables in the Dutch oven with the beef. Add 2 ½ cups of the reserved marinade (discard the rest) to the saute pan and cook over high heat to deglaze the bottom of the pan, scraping up all the brown bits with a wooden spoon. Add the beef stock, rosemary, sun-dried tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon salt, and 2 teaspoons pepper. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables in the Dutch oven and bring it to a simmer over medium heat on top of the stove. Cover the pot and place it in the oven for 2 hours, until the meat and vegetables are all tender, stirring once during cooking. If the stew is boiling rather than simmering, lower the heat to 250 or 275 degrees.

When the stew is done and the meat is tender, whisk 2 tablespoons of flour and 1 cup of the sauce together and pour it back into the stew. Simmer for 3 minutes, until thickened. Stir in the frozen peas, season to taste, and serve hot.

Serves 6.

Source: Ina Garten

>>EASY

Thai-Style Pork Stew

Use as many low-sodium ingredients as you can in this recipe or it may be too salty.

2 tablespoons vegetable (not olive) oil for browning

1 ½ pounds pork tenderloin, cut into four pieces

1 cup (or more) low-sodium chicken broth

¼ cup teriyaki sauce

2 tablespoons rice or white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups julienned red bell peppers

¼ cup creamy peanut butter

1 or 2 limes

Scallions for garnish

Roasted, lightly salted peanuts for garnish

Rice for serving

Heat vegetable oil in a large, heavy stockpot or Dutch oven. Brown tenderloin pieces on all side. Set aside.

Add chicken broth, teriyaki sauce and vinegar to the pot and stir to mix. Stir in red pepper flakes, garlic and red bell pepper. Return pork to the pot. Bring to simmer, cover and cook for about 20 minutes.

Remove meat, let cool slightly, and cut in strips. To the pot, add peanut butter and incorporate well. If it looks too thick, add more chicken broth. Return pork to pot. Squeeze ½ lime over all.

Serve with rice and garnish with scallions and peanuts. Serve with lime wedges, too.

Serves 3.

Source: Adapted from food.com

>>MODERATE

Cod and Corn Stew

Any white, flaky fish can be substituted in this recipe including sheepshead, flounder, snapper or tilapia.

4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into small dice

1 large red bell pepper, diced small

1 ½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced in ¼-inch thick half-moons

2 cups chopped yellow onions

1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup white wine, such as chardonnay, riesling or viognier

3 bay leaves

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, with their juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

2 teaspoons ground mustard

2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, plus more to taste

2 tablespoons ketchup

1 ½ pounds cod, or another flaky white fish, cut into

½-inch chunks

½ cup half-and-half

1 cup frozen or fresh corn kernels

Scatter the bacon in a 6-quart stockpot of Dutch oven over medium-high heat. With a slotted spoon, move the pieces around until the bacon is firm and just golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a small bowl with the slotted spoon. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat. (Discard excess or save for another use.)

Add the diced pepper and potatoes and saute in the bacon fat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep them from sticking. Add the onion and saute, stirring frequently, until fragrant and beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the clam juice, broth, wine and bay leaves and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer until liquid is reduced by one-quarter, about 6 minutes.

Add the tomatoes one by one, lightly crushing each as you add it, following by the tomato juice. When the stew returns to a simmer, reduce the heat to low and add the salt, pepper, mustard, coriander, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and ketchup and cook on low for another 5 to 10 minutes, covered, until potatoes are completely tender when pierced with a fork.

Add the fish to the pot. Return to a simmer and continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring gently occasionally. Add the half-and-half and corn and heat through. Do not boil or half-and-half may separate. Season with salt, pepper and more Worcestershire sauce to taste.

Garnish with reserved crispy bacon bits and serve with cornbread.

Serves 6.

Source: Adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Ted and Matt Lee (Norton, 2006)

Tasty stew doesn't have to be cooked all day 03/12/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 10:39am]

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