10 June 2013

Warning: food post — Brunswick Stew

I had never made Brunswick Stew before last week. At least I can't remember making it, and Walt too says he doesn't think I ever had made it before. I ate some while I was in North Carolina in April and even though I didn't think it was very good, it was still on my mind. I knew I could do better. The N.C. restaurant version was just too sweet — they put in too much ketchup, I think.

Brunswick Stew, a specialty of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia

The Brunswick in the name of the stew apparently refers to Brunswick County in Virginia. Or to Brunswick County in North Carolina. Or maybe to the town of Brunswick in Georgia. Virginia seems the most likely birthplace for the stew, which was traditionally made with rabbit or squirrel, back in the 18th or 19th century. It's a tomato-based concoction containing a lot of fresh vegetables.

Shredded, chopped chicken, turkey, or rabbit. This is rabbit. I've spared you the pictures of the whole bunny.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, chicken has replaced game animals in Brunswick Stew. Here in France, where it's easy to buy rabbit on the markets or in the supermarkets, I decided chicken would be just too humdrum. As for the vegetables that go into the pot, the only one I couldn't find was lima beans. I used some Portuguese haricots beurre, which resemble pinto beans when they are cooked, in their place. Another good option in France (or elsewhere) would be flageolet beans.

It wouldn't be Southern — or French — without some smoked or salt-cured pork bacon. Or ham.

Here's a list of ingredients. The main ones are the rabbit (or chicken), and one big tin of whole cooked tomatoes, with their juice. The rest are optional, and the amounts of each aren't crucial.

Rabbit, chicken, or turkey • Smoked pork belly • Broth • Celery • Onions • Garlic • Tomatoes and juice • Tomato paste
Carrot • Lima, flageolet, or other beans • Green beans • Corn • Okra • Potato • Green pepper 
Vinegar (very little) • Ketchup (very little) • Hot pepper flakes or chopped jalapeño peppers
Thyme • Rosemary • Oregano • Bay leaf • Salt and pepper

Some meat and a lot of vegetables

The first step in making Brunswick Stew is cooking the meat and making the broth that serves as its base. It's easy — you just brown the chicken or rabbit lightly in vegetable oil and then pour on enough water to cover the meat. Cut the chicken up or not, as you wish. Season the water with salt and pepper, and add in a couple of bay leaves. I nearly always put in a few allspice berries (poivre de la Jamaïque) or a clove (clou de girofle) too whenever I simmer or braise poultry.

Let the rabbit or chicken cook at a low simmer until it is completely cooked. Take it out of the broth and then boil the broth down to reduce and concentrate it as you like.  When the chicken has cooled enough that you can handle it easily, pull the meat off the bones, which you can discard. Tear the meat into shreds or chop it roughly with a knife and put it aside.

Okra helps thicken the stew, but it's optional.

Strain any peppercorns or allspice berries and the bay leaves out of the broth. Open the can of tomatoes and chop them roughly. Add the tomatoes and, if you use it, the carrot, chopped (it needs time to cook completely), along with the herbs and hot pepper. Let the liquid simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté chopped onion, garlic, and celery in a frying pan with smoked pork (bacon or diced ham). When the pork is browned and cooked and the aromatic vegetables are tender, add them (but not all the fat) to the pot of simmering liquid. Also add a tablespoon or two of ketchup and/or tomato paste, and a dash of vinegar.

Then add the other vegetables. Use fresh or frozen okra (optional), green pepper, and green beans, but make sure you use either fresh, frozen, canned, or pre-cooked lima or other beans, because dried beans won't have enough time to get done in the stew. Corn can be fresh, canned, or frozen. Let the pot simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes, and then add a cup or so of diced potato. After another 20 to 30 minutes, all the vegetables will be cooked.

Add the cooked poultry or rabbit to the stew at the last minute, just to heat through.

That's when you add in the shredded, chopped chicken or rabbit. It's already cooked, so it just needs to heat through in the liquid. The stew should be thick — it's not soup. Okra will help thicken it (and give it authentic flavor), as will some of the liquid from cooked dried beans along with a small amount of tomato ketchup.

That's it. It's just a matter of getting all the vegetables done as you like them at the same time. If there's too much liquid, pour some off, or use a slotted spoon to serve the meat and vegetables so that they aren't swimming in liquid. Walt and I ate leftovers with cooked rice and that was good too.


  1. Brunswick Stew was a first for me and it was absolutely delicious. I've had squirrel in Virginia before and I think rabbit is very close in texture and taste. In my opinion okra gives the stew its distinctive good taste. Unlike many people, I love okra. Thank you Ken for cooking this stew for me.

  2. Looks good, so I imagine it tastes just as good.

  3. Thanks for the heads-up, Ken.
    Went and had a bowl of cereal before opening post...
    house much quieter!!

    This looks a lovely stew...
    I wouldn't dream of eating a Red Squirrel....
    but would have been happy to dispose of the Grey "invaders", in the UK, this way if they'd been available.

    We make tomato passata and freeze it in blocks... I guess that would do instead of sweet ketchup.

    I'll tag this.

  4. Tim, ketchup in small quantities has its virtues. I thought people in England were being encouraged to hunt and eat squirrels. This would be a good way to "fix" them.

    Ellen, it really was good. As CHM says, the okra really gives the dish a good taste, along with all the other vegetables. I used cocos plats instead of the usual haricots verts in my ragoût

  5. Ken, does the term "camp stew" mean anything to you? Our neighbor from Tennessee used to share her camp stew, a very thick stew she served on a slice of bread. The ingredients list was about the same as your Brunswick stew except she probably used chicken. Every ingredient was chopped very fine, about the size of a corn kernel.

  6. Believe it or not the Brunswick stew around here is sour- has lots of lemon juice I think. I'm thinking it comes from Brunswick, Ga.

    Lewis's family always had it on the fourth of July. A fellow made it outside in a big caldron and delivered it to his customers. He gave me the recipe, but left out parts that I had to keep asking for. Absolutely NO ketchup, or potatoes or okra...

    I'll look for the recipe and send it to you. Here's one from a trendy magazine that is more like what we have around here: http://gardenandgun.com/article/brunswick-stew-recipe

  7. So how many helpings did the Cousin have ?
    My mum used to make a similar stew including okra with fish. As children, we used to say that "mum is stretching the recipe to feed 7 mouths" but afterwards we learned that she picked up that recipe when she was living in Madagascar. No ketchup on the islands at that time.

  8. Beaver, le cousin en a repris, mais je resterai discret regardant le nombre de fois. Il a aimé, ou a bien fait semblant.

    Evelyn, that looks like a good recipe too. I like the inclusion of good Eastern North Carolina vinegar sauce.

    Carolyn, I don't know camp stew, but it's probably about the same. Like burgoo. Maybe Evelyn knows more about that Kentucky specialty.

  9. I've made burgoo before-it's tasty, but Brunswick stew is more to my liking.

    Ken, I thought you'd like seeing your bbq sauce in that recipe.

  10. My mother's mother lived in south Georgia near Augusta. She made her Brunswick stew in a huge pot and used pulled pork in addition to chicken. The joke in the South is that we eat all of a pig but its squeak. I remember opening a huge pot on the stove on a day she was making Brunswick stew. She was not as far along as I thought. I came face to face with a pig's head, simmering away! She used the meat from the pig's face in the stew.

  11. A pig's head, oh my goodness! Thanks for that story, Margaret!

  12. Why would a "restaurant" use ketchup in soup? That's just wrong!

  13. Evelyn and Margaret, I didn't show pictures of the rabbit I cooked because, well, the head cooked with the rest of the beast. Any meat we can pick off the head (it's in the freezer) will go into Callie's bowl. Tête de porc and tête de veau are things we see often here.

    Starman, many Brunswick Stew recipes call for significant amounts of ketchup and/or (sweet) barbecue sauce to be added to the tomatoes.

  14. FWIW, our cat recently killed a baby bunny and ate only the head. Must be good eats for animals!


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