The making of a good stew depends less on talent and more on will. Specifically, are you willing to let go and create disorder in the kitchen?
Take my friend, Katy, for example. Katy is a baking marvel. She is the Muhammad Ali of the convection oven, pitying the fool who dares rival her in the éclair, financier, and cream puff arena. But she is no stew-maker. She follows recipes the way literalists follow the letter of the law, and measures herbs and spices with the exactitude of a Swiss watchmaker. Such methodology renders perfect pastry, but as Katy is the first to laughingly admit, yields sterile stews.
The “kitchen as clinic” approach will not do for stew. Stew is at heart a flexible dish, willing to bend and bow to whimsy as much as tradition; and to achieve greatness, it requires liberal zeal, regardless of political leanings.
To begin, locate a stew recipe that appeals, then use it as a point of orientation, a stovetop roadmap for proportion, flavor, technique, and timing. From there, have fun, exerting free will and jocularity. You want more garlic? Add more garlic. You want wine instead of water? Do it. The text calls for onions, but you favor shallots? Make the change. Imbibe the cooking liquid from time to time. And poke your nose in the pot, too; breathe the heady aroma of your creation and smirk at your skill.
And in case you’re thinking a stew requires all day preparation, think again. Check out my smoked paprika chickpea stew, a 15-minute wonder. I came up with the idea for it based on an abundance of canned chickpeas in my pantry (specifically 12 cans! Ho w did that happen?). It’s fantastic fast food—definitely a case of the sum being greater than the parts.
It’s an especially nice option when you’re away from your own kitchen, as it requires no special equipment (you don’t even need a sharp knife). Happy cooking, everyone!Print