Sunday, April 11, 2010

Daring Cooks' Brunswick Stew

Nick gave me a flower:

Blog checking lines--The 2010 April Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Wolf of Wolf's Den. She chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make Brunswick Stew. Wolf chose recipes for her challenge from the Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt Lee and Ted Lee, and from the Callaway, Virginia Ruritan Club.

I have to confess that when I read this month's Daring Cooks Challenge, my initial reaction was not one of overwhelming excitement. First of all, I thought, "Aaaahhh! That uses rabbit!" I should probably explain that while I'll eat just about anything in the whole wide world, rabbit is on the tiny Do Not Eat List, as we own a pair of the fuzzy little critters.

On the other hand, one of them is a bad, bad bunny, so I found myself threatening her when she was being evil, "Would you like to be in some Brunswick Stew? Yes you would, you bad bad rabbit." Don't worry--she's alive and well and continues to wreak havoc and destruction.

As I read the challenge instructions, I was relieved to find that the Daring Cooks stipulated that rabbit is not required. The more I thought about it, though, all I could think about was how much I really didn't feel like eating a hearty stew in the beginning of spring.

"Stop your whining," I finally said to myself, "and find a way to make it yummy." So after some brainstorming, my initial impulse was to once again make a deconstructed sort of thing. I swear that I don't always do this to recipes, but I was inspired by Thomas Keller's recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon. In this recipe, Keller basically makes a stew, and then strains out all of the vegetables. For the final product, vegetables are separately cooked and then recombined with the flavorful meat and liquid. In this way, each vegetable is cooked in an herb and spice-infused cooking medium until it reaches the perfect doneness, and when it is added to the final product, the stew acquires a new level of perfection and sophistication.

When I mentioned this month's challenge to Nick, he immediately hit upon the same idea, without me even mentioning it. We talked some more about what kinds of meats to use, how to cook the vegetables, etc. I mentioned that I thought it would be delicious to use pork shoulder, but keep it separated in a cheese cloth, a la Keller. That way, when it came time to shred the various kinds of meat, this portion of pork shoulder could be shredded and then tossed in a hot pan with some barbecue sauce. That, I figured, would make this dish way more interesting. Funnily enough, when researching Brunswick Stew, I learned that it frequently includes barbecue sauce. What can I say? I'm a genius.

The best part is that for all my whining about not wanting to eat something so wintery--"I would like this in the fall, but it's not the fall, it's spring, and I want to eat something springy...," we ended up having one last icky, cold, blustery day. So we built a fire, made some stew, and had a little send-off to winter dinner, and it was quite nice.

The final product was a thick, thick stew made of duck, pork shoulder, lima beans, and chicken stock. Rather than adding the carrots to the stew near the end of its cooking time, we made Alton Brown's Glazed Carrot recipe, and put those on top of the stew. We would highly recommend this recipe, by the way.

The corn was likewise not added to the stew--we sauteed it with some onion (which is a delicious way to cook corn, especially with fresh corn cut off the cob). On top of the carrots and corn went the barbecued pork, which was topped with some diced roasted poblanos. In the beginning of the stew recipe, you're instructed to saute some bacon and discard it. Discard bacon? No way. That went on top.

At one point, our 'deconstructed' approach meant that there we had a lot of different things going on. Nick said, "This is where it gets fun." Breaking down a whole duck, by the way, was not fun. They're some tough little buggers.

The stew was delicious, and we loved our choice of modifications. In fact, this was so delicious that we might even make it again. The recipe says that at one point, "It should taste like the most flavorful chicken soup you've ever had." And it did! In the future, I might even start off my chicken soup with the methods suggested in this recipe.

This recipe is a good example of why we're liking the Daring Cooks' challenges--you're given a set of rules that you have to work with, but at the same time, you can think outside of the box a bit and get creative. Ultimately, you make the best of what you're given, and I think that's a good way to go about life in general.

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