As I type this, I am clad in flannel pajamas and slurping a bowl of stew for the third night in a row. It surprises me how often I make stew, especially this time of year. But it shouldn’t, especially since I’m the original penny-saver. Stew cuts of meat are really cheap; stew uses up every vegetable malingering in the larder; stew freezes beautifully if you (g-d forbid) tire of eating the same thing for a week. Not to mention that it’s the best food in the world after a tiring, cold day; it can cook for hours while you attend to the rest of your life; the witch in me adores the cauldron it requires; and my mother’s side of the family is about as working-class UK as you can get so I’m genetically predisposed to all soft, brown food. (Don’t laugh.)
This week I threw together beef bought on sale at Whole Foods with the rosemary, mushrooms, carrots, potatoes, red wine, mustard, worcestershire sauce, and kale left in my otherwise-bare kitchen, and lo! it was good. I love stew not only because it is cheap and efficient but because it connects me to so many hearths in so many moments in time. People have been making stew as long as they’ve known how to make fire and trap an animal or dig up a vegetable, and as I cook I like to think about all those other stews made throughout history, as well as literature: I’m obsessed with what Meg’s mother made over a Bunsen burner in A Wrinkle in Time as well as all the mysterious mutton messes of 19th century literature. Here are some of my favorite stews to make: green chile pork stew, spinach-chickpea curry stew, Provençal chicken stew, Guiness beef stew, Moroccan lamb stew. And here are five handy tips for making a mean stew–or, better yet, a stew for keeping those mean reds at bay.