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From French fricassees to Italian ragouts, from Chinese hot pots to honest American stews, one-pot dishes hold a special place in the culinary affections of cooks around the world. There issomething reassuring about the sturdiness of the stewpot, a vessel both for cooking and serving; there is reassurance also in the reminder that much can come from little. Almost any food that is legitimately ladled into a big bowl, with its mix of ingredients bathed in hot savory sauce, promises satisfaction in the eating. And there is great pleasure in the smells, sight, and taste of a well-made stew. Whether served as the centerpiece of the dinner, or as the entire main course in a single offering, these complexly flavored recipes represent much of the finest home cooking.
Many meat stews are low-maintenance, long-simmering affairs that bubble away on top of the stove—or in the oven—with little or no attention fromthe cook. For hours they fill the kitchen with their tantalizing aroma, galvanizingaromatic attention, announcing the call to table with promises of intensesatisfaction long before the dinner hour chimes. Beautifully browned, caramelized cubes of succulent meat mingle their juices with various aromatics, earthyvegetables, floral herbs, and subtle stocks, often punctuated with the tart fruitiness of a red or white wine and the sprightly acidity of tomato or lemon juice,creating finally a whole dish that is, indeed, much more than the sum of its component ingredients.
Meat stews require time to develop character and flavor. Beef stew isa relaxing affair. Some versions do best after a long stretch, even a day or two of marinating; theslow cooking can extend for a couple of hours, to soften the chunks of meat into meltingly tender morsels, giving pleasure in texture as well as in taste. And pork requires a relatively long (up to one and a half hours)braising to add moisture to the lean meat.
Other kinds of stews, however, are surprisingly quick. Most chicken stews are ready in sixty minutes or less. Because I frequently remove the skin toavoid excess fat, many of these recipes can be finished in a fraction of the usual time. And especially for summer, when you don't want to spend too long in ahot kitchen, I've included chicken stews made with chunks of skinless, boneless
white meat that cook in a flash. Most vegetable stews can be on the table in half an hour or less. And seafood stews are timed in minutes.
One other class of stew scattered throughout this collection is what I call "twice-cooked stews": that is, potpies. Almost all savory pies begin with afilling that could be served as a stew in a bowl, but becomes all the more appealing when topped with a flaky pastry, puff pastry, biscuit, or alternative (suchas mashed potato) crust and baked just before serving.
Depending upon the vegetables added to the stew, which can lose texture, and with the exception of seafood stews, which, in general, are best eaten as soon as they are ready, almost all stews improve upon reheating. In fact, becauseof the leaner cuts I have used in many of these recipes, cooling in the tasty liquid and then rewarming makes the meat in many of these stews more succulent.And because so many have complex flavors, often including tomatoes and wine,they do very well with a comfortable rest between the finishing and the eating.
An added boon for the busy cook is that many stews survive at least two or three months in the freezer with no ill effects. In fact, stews that are coveredwith plenty of liquid will keep extremely well for up to six months. If I feel like making a stew and there are only a few of us to dinner, I'll serve half andfreeze the remainder in a self-sealing plastic freezer storage bag or heavyplastic-lidded container for a day when I don't feel like cooking. It's a great luxury then to pull dinner ready-made right out of the freezer. In general, the only stews that do not keep well are seafood stews and those containing root vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes, which I think become too mealy with long storage, and green beans or sugar snap or snow peas, which lose their color and their texture if frozen.
All the recipes in this book were designed to be as tasty as they could be and as colorful as possible. It is important to keep in mind that while stewsare sometimes thought of as economical, as with all good food—and much else in life—quality counts. The quality and freshness of all the ingredients addedwill have a direct effect on the taste of the finished dish. So will the combinationsof flavors and textures you choose to put together. While stew implies a blending of tastes, you can't just throw anything together in a pot.