STEW. A stew has been described as an assortment of foods cooked in liquid within a container with a lid. Stews are usually made from several ingredients and may be named for the most important of these, for example, beef stew; for its point of origin, as in Irish stew; or for the pot in which it is cooked, as in Rumanian ghiveci, named for the Turkish güveç, an earthenware pot in which the stew is cooked.
The word "stew" is said to come from the old French word estuier, meaning to enclose. Most cultural groups have created a recipe for a special stew, and there are as many versions of them as there are cooks to make them.
In the Western world, meat stews are categorized as "brown" or "white." This means that the meat is browned in fat before liquid is added for the brown stew; meat for the white stew is not cooked in fat before liquid is added. Stews may contain meat, fish, or poultry; many of them, however, are meatless. There is also sometimes a fine line between stews and soups. Stews are usually thick, some so thick that they must be served on a plate and eaten with a fork. Others are served in soup bowls. Stews most often have several solid food ingredients. An exception is a seafood stew such as oyster or lobster stew, which contains fresh seafood, milk, and frequently butter.
Stews are commonly regarded as "comfort" foods, everyday dishes served to family or close friends in an intimate setting, rather than as fare in a more public setting or at special occasions. An exception would be boeuf à la bourguignonne, usually referred to as beef burgundy in the United States, a dish that is considered exceptional enough to be served to a guest. This stew is made with beef, tiny onions, mushrooms, wine, and herbs. M. F. K. Fisher once wrote that stews can be good enough to be haute cuisine, or the opposite, a meal fit for the lowest echelon of society, the imprisoned.
There are several important advantages to stews: Less tender cuts of meat can be tenderized with the long, moist cooking; more expensive ingredients that may be available only in small amounts can be stretched by adding less expensive foods; meat cut in small pieces cooks faster; and one-pot cooking conserves fuel and makes cleanup easier. Stews may be cooked on top of a range, in an oven, over an open fire, or in an electric Crock Pot.
In addition to being versatile in their ingredients, stews are versatile in their uses. Suggested uses include as filling for tarts or patty shells, or over mashed potatoes, rice, or biscuits.
Usually considered dishes that must be cooked for long periods, stews are, in fact, cooked quickly in countries where fuel is scarce. There are Asian chicken stews, made with young and tender chickens, that cook quickly, but are even more worthwhile because they conserve energy since the entire meal can be cooked in one pot.
Because stews are apt to use protein-and carbohydrate-containing food, as well as ingredients high in vitamin and mineral content, they are good sources of nutrients. Combining certain ingredients, for example, rice and beans, can enhance the nutrients in each food, making them more usable by the human body. Water-soluble nutrients are consumed in the sauces, or gravies, that are part of stews.
Kinds of Stew
Europe. In the eighteenth century, the term "made dish" was used to distinguish between a roast and various mixtures of ingredients. The made dishes in both France and England were often French stews, or ragouts, many still commonly served today. The term daube is more often used to describe beef stews in France. Patricia Wells's Bistro Cooking, published in 1989, contains a recipe for a daube containing wild mushrooms and oranges. An Alsatian meat stew (beef, pork, and lamb cooked with vegetables) is a tradition on Monday, washday, in certain regions. A family's stew pot is taken to the neighborhood bakery where the stew is cooked until noon, when a member of the family arrives to retrieve the meal.
Navarin is a popular French stew made with mutton, potatoes, and onion. In The Food of the Western World, Theodora Fitzgibbons tells us that if root vegetable are added, the stew should be called ragout à la printanière. Bouillabaisse, the renowned Mediterranean fish stew of France, has its counterparts in the fish stews of Greece, Italy, and Spain. There is also a less well-known bouillabaisse made with monkfish and aioli, the French garlic mayonnaise. The reader should, in addition, be mindful that the terminology can sometimes be misleading: There is a bouillabaisse de Tante Paulette, which is actually a chicken stew flavored with fennel, saffron, and Pernod or another licorice-flavored liqueur, and was frequently served at a legendary Parisian bistro, and a rabbit bouillabaisse.
The German Eintopf is another one-pot meal or stew. In the 1930s Hitler urged Germans to return to the austere meals of former days. It became law in 1933 that one Sunday a month, from October to March, was Eintopfsonntag, one-pot Sunday. Money saved from not eating more lavishly was to be donated to the poor. Eintopfs are still popular in Germany, especially in the north. Linsentopf, lentil stew, and Pichelsteiner, made with beef, veal, lamb, and pork, are popular forms of Eintopfs.
Said to be Poland's national dish, bigos —hunter's stew—has ancient origins. It was first made of vegetables such as cabbage (fresh or as sauerkraut), mushrooms, and onions, along with prunes or apples and leftover game. It was a staple for hunters and was reheated frequently over outdoor fires. Some say a poorly made bigos will improve with reheating due to the condensation of flavors, but that a well-made bigos is delicious the first day. The meat used may be fresh pork or ham, sausages, poultry—goose or duck are considered best—and any game available. Madiera wine may be added as flavoring. Over the years, bigos has assumed greater importance at Polish New Year's Eve celebrations.
Waterzooi is a well-known Flemish stew of fish or chicken, vegetables, and white wine. It is associated with the city of Ghent in East Flanders, Belgium. Most food experts claim the original stew was prepared with fish. Whether fish or chicken, the stew contains cream and is thickened with egg yolk.
Africa. Stews are used in some cultures for dipping bread or a type of porridge. The mainstay of the Ethiopian diet is injera, a pancakelike bread made from the nutritious grain tef. Pieces of injera are broken off and used to scoop up stew. Wat is the usual name for an Ethiopian stew, frequently seasoned with berbere, a dried spice and herb mixture that can be made hot with peppers. Milder Ethiopian stews are called alechos. Although meats, fish, and chicken are all used in preparing wats, the stew is more likely to be vegetarian because of the many meatless fast days required in the Ethiopian orthodox religion. Legumes are therefore often used in these stews.
The main carbohydrate for Nigerians is fufu, a thick pasty that may be made from cassava, plantain, or from a grain. Nigerian immigrants in the United States sometimes use Cream of Wheat cereal to make fufu. A diner will scoop up some fufu in his or her fingers, deftly roll it into a ball, and then use that to dip up some stew. Nigerian stews are often vegetarian dishes, but they may contain meat, fish, or poultry, and are usually made hot with peppers.
Zambians use pounded millet for their starchy dipping porridge. As in many cultures, meat stews are frequently preferred, but vegetarian stews are more likely to be readily available.
Asia. The ancient Chinese cooked keng, meat and/or vegetable stews, in cauldrons. Ceramic, and later bronze, cauldrons have been found in archaeological digs; some of these cauldrons are thought to be eight thousand years old. In The Food of China, E. N. Anderson describes the Chinese process of preparing and cooking a stew as a gentle, subtle, and slow art. The cook typically worked with a set of well-seasoned sand pots (sand-tempered earthenware); now metal woks with lids are used for cooking stews.
Tubu-tchigae, or bean curd stew, is a Korean meal that remains nostalgically popular. The dish is made with firm bean curd, pork, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and kochujang (a red pepper, soybean, and glutinous rice paste).
The Japanese iri-dori, a one-pot chicken stew seasoned with mirin, sugar, and soy sauce does not require the long cooking times generally needed if a young chicken is used. A variation on this stew uses fish in place of poultry.
Filipinos make adobo from pork, chicken, and perhaps shellfish or fin fish. Seasonings include garlic, vinegar, and soy sauce, providing the sour-cool-salty taste the Filipinos desire. Another favorite stew in the Philippines is puchero, the traditional Sunday dinner. It is prepared with chicken, beef, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and garbanzos and sometimes is served with a sauce made from eggplant.
South America. Argentineans cook their beef stews with fruits, perhaps peaches, and sometimes chunks of corn-on-the-cob. These stews may be baked in a pumpkin or squash shell. Stews are also everyday fare in Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. One is more likely to find fish stews in Chile than in other South American nations because of that country's long coastline.
North America. Traditional Mexican cooking included many stews because the meat and poultry used in that location were often not tender and they required the long, moist cooking characteristic of stews. In spite of the improved quality of meat and poultry in modern times, stews have prevailed as a favorite food. One stew, mancha manteles de cerdo, is prepared with three varieties of red chilis and tomatoes.
Mexico's pozole de lujo is often described as a "luxurious" pork stew. The recipe calls for a pig's head and pig's feet, with pork loin, chicken, and hominy. Mexican caldos (stews or soups) are traditionally served with tortillas.
First Nations in Canada and Native Americans in the United States made stews in birch bark containers or hollowed-out trees before Europeans introduced metal containers. Some tribes left a stew on the fire for hours; its members would then add gathered plants or hunted game as they returned to camp.
The culinary history of both Canada and the United States includes numerous examples of stews brought by European settlers. Beef stews have been the most popular recipes among this legacy.
On the Canadian prairies, chuck-wagon cooks made stews from less tender cuts of meat. In the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec, a stew would typically be placed inside a wood-stove oven; the fire was then allowed to die down. The stew cooked in the waning fire. Ontario Mennonites still prepare stews in iron kettles.
Stews have been important food for most of the world's people for thousands of years, and there is no indication that this will change any day soon. They are wonderful concoctions, savored for their flavorful combinations as well as their reminders of home and family.
See also Chicken Soup ; Lamb Stew ; Porridge ; Soup .
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Wells, Patricia (assisted by Judy Kleiber Jones). Bistro Cooking. New York: Workman Publishing, 1989.
Wells, Patricia. Patricia Wells at Home in Provence. New York: Scribners, 1996.
Zelayeta, Elena. Elena's Secrets of Mexican Cooking. Garden City: Doubleday, 1968.
Mark Stewart uses the one-name professional moniker "Stew" in his work as a singer, songwriter, and stage performer. His loosely autobiographical tale, Passing Strange, opened on Broadway in 2008 and was nominated for the Tony Award for best new musical of the season. Critics welcomed its tale of a disaffected, world-traveling African-American punk rocker as a dramatic departure from the saccharine excess of most Broadway musicals of recent years. Its creator "brought this story to Broadway with no experience, little training, and paltry affection for the form," noted Jeremy McCarter in New York magazine. "No matter what you think of the result, the mere act of showing up is the most punk-rock thing the place has seen in years."
Born in 1961, Stew grew up in a single-parent household in Los Angeles in its Fairfax District, a neighborhood he described as "a black-Jewish-Mexican-Asian bubble of liberalism" in an interview with David Ng of the Village Voice. Like the protagonist in Passing Strange, Stew experienced a kind of cultural dislocation as a teenager, feeling more affinity for the burgeoning punk-rock scene in Los Angeles in the late 1970s than he did for the soul, disco, or rhythm and blues records his classmates liked; Eastern religions such as Zen Buddhism held more appeal for him than did the African-American church community his mother favored. As a young man, he left Los Angeles for New York City, where he was a member of a band called the Animated.
In the early 1980s Stew moved to the freewheeling Dutch city of Amsterdam, and later settled in Berlin, Germany, where he honed his skills as a performance artist and singer-songwriter. During his years in Europe he developed an interest in the legendary cabaret acts of a bygone era, particularly the erudite French-language songs of Jacques Brel and the equally literary stylings of Kurt Weill, a German operetta composer who gained fame in Berlin in the 1920s. When Passing Strange began to impress critics, Stew was often asked if he had seen many musical-theater classics during his lifetime. He had not, but he had once house-sat for someone with a collection of recordings from the British theater legend and songwriter Noël Coward, who died in 1973. "We were spellbound," he told Newsweek's Cathleen McGuigan about the discovery of the cache that he and his friends made. "When it comes to marrying lyrics to rhythm, Coward is the best."
In the early 1990s Stew returned to Los Angeles on a part-time basis and formed a band he called the Negro Problem. For the first few years the band was an underground favorite at as-yet-undiscovered performance venues in the Silverlake area, and Stew's cabaret-type songs earned comparisons to Weill and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. The band's first release, Post Minstrel Syndrome, was issued in 1997. Three years later Stew delivered his first solo record, Guest Host, and its 2002 follow up, The Naked Dutch Painter and Other Songs, headed the top-ten list of the best albums of the year from the Entertainment Weekly critic Tom Sinclair. "‘AfroBaroque,’ he calls it," Sinclair wrote of Stew. "We call it wonderful."
Passing Strange took shape over a three-year period with financial backing from the Sundance Institute and the Public Theater of New York. Stew appeared in it as the narrator and lead guitarist, while his romantic partner, Heidi Rodewald—who also played in the Negro Problem—composed the music. The work premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, California, in the fall of 2006, made its New York City debut in May of 2007 at the Public Theatre, and nine months later moved to Broadway at the Belasco Theatre.
As the narrator of Passing Strange, Stew recounts the story of a young man growing up on the fringe of the black middle class in Southern California. Known only as "Youth," he disdains the church choir his mother urges him to join, and he moves to Europe at the first opportunity. In Amsterdam Youth descends into a substance-abusing lifestyle, and in Berlin he finds a temporary family as part of an avant-garde art commune. Along the way he tests out various personas, and is privately amused to discover that his European friends love the idea that he came from an impoverished urban milieu—even if that is not entirely true.
Hence the title, which is a nod to the earlier historical phenomenon of light-skinned African Americans "passing" as white, which Stew told the New York Times Magazine's Deborah Solomon that his grandmother once did to land a job. Elaborating further, he characterized Youth's ruse as a turnabout on "the myth of black authenticity, which, for the character in my play, is about being disenfranchised, violent and uneducated."
Theater critics were almost unanimous in their praise for Stew's debut stage work. "Dramatically, the show feels a little padded," noted Richard Zoglin in Time, "but musically, it's original and extraordinarily winning." Writing in the New York Times, Charles Isherwood described it as "a rock 'n' roll autobiography of an artist in search of himself." Isherwood asserted that "it features a handful of theatrical performances to treasure" and noted that "with his bald dome, goofy aspect and neat black suit worn with sneakers, Stew does not look like anybody else on a New York stage at the moment. This is entirely fitting, since his is the story of a young man achingly out of place in the world, trying on poses and assuming new guises in his quest for an identity that, as he will ultimately learn, many artists can only find in their art."
Stew's performance in Passing Strange earned him a Tony Award nomination for best performance by a leading actor in a musical in 2008, and he and Rodewald were nominated in two other categories: best original score and best orchestration. Passing Strange was also a contender in the best new musical category. The play's run kept him in New York, but he returned regularly to Berlin, where he has a teenage daughter from a previous relationship. "Berlin is a lot like New York," he told Ng. "You get addicted to it even if you don't like it. The next thing you know, it's two years later."
At a Glance …
Born Mark Stewart in 1961; one daughter.
Career: Singer, songwriter, and performer; The Negro Problem, founder and member, early 1990s—; released first solo record, Guest Host, in 2000; made stage debut as the narrator of Passing Strange, 2006.
Addresses: Office—c/o Belasco Theatre, 111 W. Forty-fourth St., New York, NY 10036.
Post Minstrel Syndrome, Smile, 1997.
Joys and Concerns, Smile, 1999.
Guest Host, Telegraph Company, 2000.
The Naked Dutch Painter and Other Songs, Smile, 2002.
Welcome Black, Smile, 2002.
Lullabies' Lullaby, True Classical, 2004.
Something Deeper Than These Changes, Smile, 2003.
Entertainment Weekly, December 20, 2002, p. 132.
Newsweek, June 16, 2008, p. 52.
New York, February 29, 2008.
New York Times, February 29, 2008, p. E1.
New York Times Magazine, February 17, 2008, p. 15.
Time, February 29, 2008.
Variety, February 29, 2008, p. 40.
Village Voice, November 2, 1999; April 24, 2007.
The Negro Problem,http://www.negroproblem.com (accessed June 16, 2008).
stew1 / st(y)oō/ • n. 1. a dish of meat and vegetables cooked slowly in liquid in a closed dish or pan: lamb stew | add to casseroles, stews, and sauces. 2. [in sing.] inf. a state of great anxiety or agitation: I suppose he's all in a stew. 3. archaic a heated public room used for hot steam baths. ∎ a brothel. • v. [tr.] cook (meat, fruit, or other food) slowly in liquid in a closed dish or pan: a new way to stew rhubarb. ∎ [intr.] (of meat, fruit, or other food) be cooked in such a way. ∎ [intr.] inf. remain in a heated or stifling atmosphere: sweaty clothes left to stew in a plastic bag. ∎ [intr.] inf. worry about something, esp. on one's own: James will be expecting us, so we will let him stew a bit. ∎ (be stewed in) poetic/lit. be steeped in or imbued with: politics there are stewed in sexual prejudice and privilege. PHRASES: stew in one's own juice inf. suffer anxiety or the unpleasant consequences of one's own actions without the consoling intervention of others. stew2 • n. Brit. a pond or large tank for keeping fish for eating. ∎ an artificial oyster bed. stew3 • n. inf. an air steward or stewardess.
layers of oysters in an artificial oyster bed; a cooked dish consisting of meat and other vegetables; a breeding place for pheasants—Wilkes.
Examples : stew of oysters, 1817; of pheasants, 1888.