On Cooking Southern: Brunswick Stew

Brunswick Stew
Old Fashioned Brunswick Stew with okra added and substituting orange for red bell peppers.

Two recipes for that unpretentious comfort food

By Laurie Triplette

ldtriplette@aol.com

SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK

Uppity: Pretentious. Acting like someone you’re not, as though trying to impress others with how much better you are. Think Nashville and the Vandy ‘Dores.

On Cooking Southern

This week we need to examine one of the Old Bride’s favorite all-in-one-dish meals: BRUNSWICK STEW. Those of us who grew up personally acquainted with squirrel, rabbit and other wilderness critters in our stewpots can appreciate this hearty dish in all its incarnations.

According to one historical viewpoint, Brunswick stew was named for Brunswick County, Virginia, where a Dr. Creed Haskins of the Virginia state legislature asked in 1828 for a special squirrel stew to feed folks attending a political rally. As was usually the case in early Southern culinary history, Dr. Haskins’ black cook concocted the dish for the crowd from locally grown food and meat sources. Jimmy Matthews’s crowd-pleaser that day was reputed to contain numerous meats, but few vegetables, and relied heavily on onion.  (A variation of this in Virginia is sometimes called a Muddle.)

Brunswick, Georgia, also claims to be the real originator of the stew. Georgia Methodist followers of John and Charles Wesley during the early 19th century created a stew containing veggies and meats when converting the local Indians.

Today’s many versions of Brunswick stew are regional favorites across the South, although the Old Dominion and the Peach State continue to fight over who came first. A tomato-flavored Tar Heel and Tennessee version containing corn, limas and potatoes is one of the Old Bride’s favorite sides served with BBQ. Whether slow-simmered in a crock pot for family, or whipped up in a heavy cast iron cauldron to feed the masses, the potentials for variation are virtually limitless. Add what feels right.

Gimme Some Sugar, Darlin'RECIPES OF THE WEEK

OLD FASHIONED BRUNSWICK STEW
From GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, this version is a classic I found in the North Carolina/Virginia mountains.

4 to 5 lb chicken, skinned, including 2 legs, 2 wings, 2 thighs, 2 breasts
1/3 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dried leaf thyme
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 c chopped yellow onion
6 oz lean smoked ham (deli ham is fine)
Splash of Tabasco, OPTIONAL
4 to 6 c chicken broth
28-oz can of whole tomatoes, juice reserved, tomatoes cut up
1/2 c chopped green bell pepper
1/4 c chopped red bell pepper
1 medium Bay leaf
2 c fresh shelled  limas or 10-oz pkg frozen
2 c fresh corn kernels, or thawed shoepeg  frozen corn
2 to 3 peeled and cubed large red potatoes, or more to taste
NOTE: Rabbit and squirrel may be added (prep like the chicken)

Cut the two chicken breast halves into half again. You should have 10 pieces. Trim away as much fat as possible. Rinse and let drain. In a shallow bowl, combine flour, salt, pepper, thyme, and cayenne. Dredge damp chicken pieces in the seasoned flour.

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. Dredge the chicken again if the coating looks damp; shake any excess back into the bowl. Reserve seasoned flour. Add chicken pieces to the pan in a single layer without crowding, in batches if necessary, and cook, turning, until golden brown, about 7 minutes per batch. Lower the heat if necessary about half-way through, so the fat doesn’t burn.

Remove chicken to a large Dutch oven. In skillet, cook onions and peppers in chicken drippings plus add 1 T oil until soft, about 3 minutes. Add  ham and cook until lightly browned, about 2 to 3 minutes longer. Deglaze bits from pan by adding reserved tomato juice from can and stirring with wooden spoon. Sprinkle the reserved seasoned flour over the ham and onions and cook, stirring, just to blend in, about 30 seconds. Add a splash of Tabasco if desired. Pour mixture over chicken in Dutch oven. Add remaining ingredients to Dutch oven. Cover and bake in moderate oven at about 325ºF for about 2 to 3 hours. Yield: Feeds a crowd.

Laurie Triplette
Laurie Triplette

SLOW COOKER BRUNSWICK STEW
I use grocery store rotisserie chicken.

14.5-oz can of diced tomatoes
6-oz can of tomato paste
3 c cooked, cubed chicken (light and dark)
1 c cut corn (fresh or thawed from frozen)
1 c baby limas or butter peas, OPTIONAL
1-1/2 c sliced okra (frozen is okay)
1 c chopped white onion
1 Bay leaf
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried crushed rosemary
1/4 tsp crushed oregano
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
Dash of ground cloves
2-1/2 c good chicken stock

In slow cooker, combine tomatoes and tomato paste; stir to blend. Add chicken, vegetables and spices. Stir in chicken broth. Cover; cook on LOW for 5 to 6 hours, or for 8 hours if pot doesn’t allow low setting. Before serving, remove Bay leaf and stir well. YIELD: 6 servings.

Brunswick Stew
Stew in the pot straight out of the oven, before stirring.