Stewing is defined as a process of cooking wherein the food is cooked in a small amount of simmering liquid over low heat for a long duration of time. The mixture of solid food and liquids cooked together results in a flavorful gravy based dish. Some well-known stewed dishes include Beef Stew, Ratatouille and Haleem.
Origin of Stewing
Stewing, as a method of cooking can be dated back to ancient times, when people used to kill a large animal like a buffalo, and put the meat inside its own paunch and cook it over fire generated by the animal’s bones. This method can be traced back up to 1 million years ago. Stewing was a process similar to boiling, but emerged as a separate process as the amount of heat required lower than boiling, and the liquid present in the resultant stewed dish took the form of gravy after long hours of cooking. Stewed recipes started gaining popularity all across the globe as stewing not only enhanced the flavor, but also allowed tough meats to become tender by slowly breaking down the connective tissue present in meats. Simple dishes such as beef stew became popular as they were tasty yet inexpensive to prepare.
The Process of Stewing
Stewing is carried out by cooking together meat, vegetables and other aromatic herbs and spices in a liquid, usually water or stock, on very low heat for a long time. The food is stewed until it becomes tender and well-cooked. The liquid (gravy) is served along with the food that is cooked. Covered saucepans or cookers should be used to prepare stewed recipes, and the food item should be completely immersed in the gently simmering liquid. Care should be taken not to increase the intensity of heat as too much heat may lead to the food getting burnt. The mild heat and prolonged cooking time causes even the toughest cuts of meats to become tender by breaking the connective tissue down into gelatin. There is no loss of nutrients from the food as the soluble nutrients are simply passed on from the food to the cooking liquid, which is later served along with the food. Stewing is a time consuming method of cooking. Stewed recipes are generally a part of household cooking.
Popular Stewed Dishes
Stewing is used to prepare various types of gravy-based dishes. Some of the popular stewed dishes include Ragout, Irish stew, Bouillabaisse and the famous Gumbo. Tough meats and root vegetables are best suited ingredients for stewed recipes. As the food is cooked for a long duration, tough and inexpensive cuts of meat can be easily transformed into tender and flavorful stewed dishes. Beef and pork stews are popular in the western cuisine, whereas mutton and vegetable stews are popular in the Asian, Indian and Mediterranean cuisines.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Stewing
Stewing is advantageous in the sense that it highly enhances and concentrates the natural flavor of dishes, and it also makes tough cuts of meat easy to digest by making them tender. Thus, by making inexpensive and tough cuts of meat tender, stewing also turns out to be a very economical method of preparing food.
However, one major disadvantage of stewing is that it is a time taking process and stewed dishes take a very long to be prepared.
Techniques Similar to Stewing
Stewing is similar to boiling, as the food is immersed in a liquid and cooked. However, the difference lies in the intensity of heat, which is much less in the case of stewing, and the cooking time is greater than boiling. Braising is another method partially similar to stewing, as braising is a combination of stewing and roasting.
Water can be replaced with beer or wine for preparing stewed dishes.