A stew is a combination of solid food ingredients that have been cooked in liquid and served in the resultant gravy. Ingredients in a stew can include any combination of vegetables (such as carrots, potatoes, onions, beans, peppers and tomatoes) or meat, especially tougher meats suitable for slow-cooking, such as beef. Poultry, sausages, and seafood are additionally used. While water can be used as the stew-cooking liquid, wine, stock, and beer are additionally common. Seasoning and flavourings might additionally be added. Stews are typically cooked at a relatively low temperature (simmered, not boiled), allowing flavours to mingle.

Stewing is suitable for the least tender cuts of meat that become tender and juicy with the slow moist heat method. This makes it popular in low-cost cooking. Cuts having a certain amount of marbling and gelatinous connective tissue give moist, juicy stews, while lean meat might easily become dry.

Stews might be thickened by reduction or with flour, either by coating pieces of meat with flour before searing, or by using a roux or beurre manié, a dough consisting of equal parts of fat and flour. Thickeners like cornstarch or arrowroot might additionally be used.

Stews are similar to soups, and in a few cases there might not be a clear distinction between the two. Generally, stews have less liquid than soups, are much thicker and require longer cooking over low heat. While soups are almost always served in a bowl, stews might be thick enough to be served on a plate with the gravy as a sauce over the solid ingredients.

History

A beef stew

Stews have been made after ancient times. Herodotus says that the Scythians (8th to fourth centuries BC) "put the flesh into an animal's paunch, mix water with it, and boil it like that over the bone fire. The bones burn quite well, and the paunch easily contains all the meat once it has been stripped off. In this way an ox, or any additional sacrificial beast, is ingeniously made to boil itself."

Amazonian tribes used the shells of turtles as vessels, boiling the entrails of the turtle and various additional ingredients in them. Other cultures used the shells of large mollusks (clams etc.) to boil foods in. There is archaeological evidence of these practises going back 8,000 years or more.

There are recipes for lamb stews and fish stews in the Roman cookery book Apicius, believed to date from the fourth century AD. Le Viandier, one of the oldest cookbooks in French, written in the early fourteenth century by the French chef known as Taillevent, has ragouts or stews of various types in it.

The first written reference to 'Irish stew' is in Byron's "The Devil's Drive" (1814): "The Devil ... dined on ... a rebel or so in an Irish stew."

Types

In meat-based stews, white stews, additionally known as blanquettes or fricassées, are made with lamb or veal that's blanched, or lightly seared without browning, and cooked in stock. Brown stews are made with pieces of red meat that are first seared or browned, before a browned mirepoix, and at times browned flour, stock and wine are added.

List of stews

A traditional bouillabaisse from Marseille, with the fish served separately from the soup
Cochinita pibil, cooling in the pan after cooking
Goulash in a traditional "bogrács"
Dubu jjigae (Korean tofu stew)
Chicken yahni
A pork stew (ragoût de porc)
Claypot beef stew with potatoes and mushrooms