Down-Home Comfort: Slow-Cooker Brunswick Stew
Steamy kitchen windows and tantalizing aromas in the air often mean a slowly cooked winter stew is simmering and gently burbling away in the kitchen. When it's cold and wet outside, very few meals satisfy and satiate our souls and stomachs like a steaming bowl of hearty, thick goodness. Brunswick stew, a thick, substantial stew of meat and vegetables, fits the bill of down-home comfort.
There are many food myths surrounding Brunswick stew. Recipes vary wildly, with some claiming authentic Brunswick stew contains squirrel, others insisting it's made from beef and chicken, and still others vehemently protesting it's a combination of chicken and pork. Some recipes claim rabbit as the other white meat. Brunswick County, Virginia, maintains the first Brunswick stew was cooked on the banks of the Nottaway River in 1828. And Saint Simon's, Georgia, has a cast-iron pot enshrined as a monument to the supposed sight of the first pot of Brunswick stew cooked in 1898.
No disrespect intended, but Brunswick stew is far too totemic to be tied to one place or one recipe. Slow-cooked meat and vegetables cooked in a pot is a dish as old as time. It’s a satisfying, rib-sticking stew made from the bits and pieces of leftover meat to feed a family with limited means, and an enticing, vote-bending plate at a political rally. It's an old-time-religion church fundraiser served up by little old ladies, and a decidedly profane hunt-camp staple relished with sips of whiskey. It's a slow-cooked BBQ staple, the meats carefully, reverently smoked over an open pit of glowing coals, and a dump-and-stir dish tossed together in a slow cooker by a harried mom using a rattling series of cans, bottles and jars.
The latter I am less fond of, but slow cookers are the Modern-Day Mom's Little Helper. They help get home-cooked food on the table for many busy families. I suggest they can be used and still maintain the quality of the ingredients — for example, fresh or frozen vegetables can be used instead of canned ones.
In this recipe I am sharing the process for both. The one rule is that Brunswick stew should be thick enough that a spoon should stand up in it. And, I swear to you, this photo is not trickery; this stew is the real deal.
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all , among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.