Stewing Cooking Method
The stewing cooking method is a combination of dry heat cooking with the use of a fat, followed by longer-term, moist heat cooking to finish. Stewing is a slow cooking process, and is generally secondary to sautéing, or to pan frying. It combines solid food ingredients, and cooks them in a liquid that thickens to a gravy consistency. It’s usually done with the pot covered, and only lifting the lid when necessary.
This is an excellent technique for tenderizing tougher, less-expensive cuts of meat, such as shank, chuck, venison, rabbit, and rooster, and for tougher vegetables. It turns the ingredients into richly flavored, one-pot meals that have a melt-in-your mouth texture. In addition to being a cooking method that’s been used for centuries, one-pot cooking is economical and versatile.
The meat and the other ingredients used are cut into bite-sized pieces before being seared. As a result, the cooking time is usually shortened a bit. The amount of, and the type of liquid needed will vary from one dish to another. Adjust the amounts, and the types of liquids, spices and seasonings, and the cooking time to suit your taste. The length of cooking time will vary for each dish, but stews usually take a few hours.
Stewing is often compared to braising, but they’re not quite the same. The stewing cooking method can be used with a lot of the same cuts of meat that you would use for braising, but the process is slightly different. Compared to braising, stewed meat is covered with, and cooked in liquid. It’s simply a form of simmering, but not boiling either. The foods are simmered for longer lengths of time, reducing the liquid slightly, resulting in a thicker consistency.
The stewing cooking method often begins with browning the meat- sometimes dredging it, then sautéing the aromatics and vegetables. Once everything has been sautéed, you’ll add the liquids, and mix it all well. Bring it to a boil, reduce it to a simmer, and let everything stew together, covered. The lid should be tight-fitting to prevent heat loss as well as moisture loss while stewing, both of which can affect the cooking time. Again, only lift the lid when it’s necessary to do so. Everything should be fork tender when it’s done cooking.
While stewing, the meat’s full flavor is preserved since the nourishing, flavorful components stay with, are cooked with, and are served with the meat. The tougher meats tend to be more flavorful, and the juices of the meat amalgamate with the other ingredients. This slow cooking method softens the fibers, and extracts the nourishing parts that add to the richness of the gravy.
The majority of the spices and seasonings that you choose to add will be added toward the end of cooking the stew. You can also add a thickening agent such as flour, or you can puree some of the stewed vegetables, if there are any. You can use a Dutch oven for the stewing cooking method, or a heavy stockpot. Stewing can also be started on the stove, then finished in the oven. To do this, you bring it to a boil on the stove in a Dutch oven, and move it to the oven to finish at 300-350°F.
Stews are warm and comforting. The stewing cooking method is also a great antidote to the chill of winter, and for damp days. Not to mention, most stews taste better as leftovers the second day.
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