Stew is a dish of solid food ingredients cooked slowly in liquid in a closed dish or pan.
The basic materials may be any meat and/or vegetables.
It is ideal for tough meat like mutton and beef. Poultry, sausages, and seafood are also used.
Stewing is suitable for the least tender cuts of meat that become tender and juicy with the slow moist heat method (simmered, not boiled). 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 may easily become dry.
Stews are found in virtually all of the world’s cuisines.
The word “stew” is said to come from the old French word estuier, meaning to enclose. Most cultural groups have created a recipe for a special stew, and there are as many versions of them as there are cooks to make them.
Amazonian tribes used the shells of turtles as vessels, boiling the entrails of the turtle and various other ingredients in them.
The development of pottery, perhaps 10,000 years ago, made cooking, and stews in particular, even easier.
As for written records (“cookbooks”), just look in the oldest cookbook known. There are recipes for lamb stews & fish stews in “Apicius de re Coquinaria”, whose identity is uncertain, there having been 3 Romans by that name in the period 1st century BC to 2nd century AD. What is known is that the book has survived, and there are recipes for stews of lamb and fish in it.
Le Viandier, one of the oldest cookbooks in French, written in the early 14th century by the French chef known as Taillevent, has ragouts or stews of various types in it.
In the Western world, meat stews are categorized as “brown” or “white.” This means that the meat is browned in fat before liquid is added for the brown stew; meat for the white stew is not cooked in fat before liquid is added.
Soups are similar to stews, and in some cases there may not be a clear distinction between the two; however, soups generally have more liquid (broth) than stews.
Also, while soups are almost always served in a bowl, stews may be thick enough to be served on a plate with the gravy as a sauce over the solid ingredients.
Stews are 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.
In addition to being versatile in their ingredients, stews are versatile in their uses. Suggested uses include as filling for tarts or patty shells, or over mashed potatoes, rice, or biscuits.
Hungarian Goulash, Coq au Vin, Carbonnades a la Flamande, Beef Stroganoff, Boeuf Bourguignonne, these are all stews.
Irish stew, “ballymaloe” or “stobhach gaelach” as it is called in Gaelic, traditionally contains chunks of lamb or mutton (less tender meat from sheep more than two years of age), potatoes, onions and parsley.
Rat stew is consumed in American cuisine in the state of West Virginia.
Vegetarian stews can be made from vegetables simmered in vegetable broth, often an onion-based stock.
Though now considered a comfort food, stews were once a meal of necessity, whose popularity grew out of social conditions that were anything but comfortable.
Although not always the most attractive dinner, a bowl of warm, hearty stew is always a welcome sight on a cold day.