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Hopkins Brunswick Stew

Mike Amason

Brunswick stew is a rural dish originally made from squirrels and whatever vegetables were available.  I have never had two versions that were alike.  This is a recipe you can experiment with that is quite forgiving for a new cook and with a lot of room to play for an experienced chef.  Mistakes may even improve the mixture.  This recipe is one my Mother, Mary, grew up on in Hopkins, South Carolina. She taught me to make it when I was about twelve or so.  She used a whole chicken when she was a girl because that was the way nature packaged them and “cooking from scratch” meant she’d find the main ingredient scratching in the yard a few minutes before it made it to the pot.   The only complaint you are likely to get is that you didn’t make enough of it.  Makes excellent fuel for your body whether you want to perform hard labor after dinner or try out for the Olympic Napping Team.

Ingredients:

  • Three chicken breasts @ 1 lb each  (Dark meat is fine and has a stronger flavor.  Leftover turkey will also work but you will have to make a quart of bouillon)
  • Two Tbsp olive oil
  • 1-4 cloves garlic to taste
  • Two medium onions – I use red but it’s your choice.  Large spring onions work well also, but require more of them since they are mild.  Chop the greens if you do use them and add to the stew.
  • One stalk celery
  • One 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • One 8 oz can tomato sauce
  • One 6 oz can tomato paste
  • One 15 oz can corn
  • One 15 oz can green baby limas (or use dried)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • ½ oz worcestershire sauce
  • salt, pepper, red pepper sauce to taste (i.e, Tasbasco or Texas Pete)

Serves 4-6    Leftovers freeze well if there are any.

Directions:
*If you are using dried beans, soak them for at least eight hours before starting this recipe. Add the salt as the last ingredient.  Different canned goods will have different salt contents, and it is easier to put it in than to take it out.

Boil the chicken breasts for an hour or so in 1-1/2 quarts water.  When fork tender, remove them and put the broth in a container to cool. Add a few ice cubes to bring the fat to the top.

Skin, bone, and chop the breasts into 1” pieces.  When they fall apart the stew will be stringy with the chicken.  Put olive oil in the pot with a couple of tablespoons water or broth on medium heat, chop the onion and toss it in. Peel the garlic cloves and smash them on the cutting board with the flat of your knife and your fist and toss them into the pot.  This method smells great and relieves a lot of tension.   I add freshly ground black pepper and the thyme at this point.  When onion starts to cook, chop the celery and add it to the mix.

Skim the schmaltz off the reserved broth.  You can use it in the stew, but you will have to heat the leftovers before they will be edible.  Skimmed broth produces a stew that is excellent right out of the fridge for a midnight snack.

When the onion begins to clarify, add three cups of the broth, the worcestershire sauce, the red pepper sauce, and the chopped chicken.  If you have been bored waiting on the onions to cook, you will have pulled the cubed chicken apart into strings.  If not, that’s OK too.  It will happen anyway. When it comes to a boil, add the diced tomatoes and the sauce and paste.  Stir until the paste dissolves in the mixture.  Let boil for ten minutes if you are using canned beans.

*If you are using dried beans, add them now, add another cup of broth, and let boil 30-45 minutes or until beans are tender.  If not, drain the canned corn and beans well and add them to the pot.  Add whatever broth is left until you get the consistency of the stew like you want it.   Stir and simmer for 10-15 minutes, taste and add salt to taste.  Adjust any other spices to suit yourself.  If you have too much liquid, add another can tomato paste to thicken.  When the chicken falls apart, you are ready to eat.

Serve hot with a pan of fresh biscuits.  Will serve six or so (more if you add liquid and more veggies and make a bigger pan of biscuits), or will produce four very satiated people.

Variations:

  1. My Mother used to make this with the addition of a couple of pork chops to the chicken breasts, cooked until they fell apart.  Much heartier stew, but not necessary.  If you try this, cook the pork chops separately from the chicken to keep the chicken broth light and grease free.
  2. Too much onion is not enough in this stew.  Add freely to taste.
  3. I have added fresh or frozen cut okra to this stew from time to time.  The okra technically makes it a gumbo, and the slime from the okra changes the mouth feel slightly.
  4. Fresh or frozen green peas don’t hurt it a bit if you are so inclined.
  5. Diced fresh tomatoes are usually an improvement if they are not winter greenhouse tomatoes.  Homegrown tomatoes such as Rutgers, Marion, or Roma are all outstanding.  Large slicing tomatoes can be used but don’t have the meaty flavor or the thicker consistency of the smaller varieties.
  6. Diced potatoes will thicken the stew and are a great economical stretcher to feed a lot of people.  If you use potatoes, however, the stew will not freeze nearly as well and you may get an off flavor when it is thawed.
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