Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hays County Stew

Over the years I've accumulated three really interesting recipes for stew. Being a Libra, I can never decide which is my favorite, so I put them all together. The result is Hays County Stew.

My earliest favorite stew recipe is from "Manna:Foods of the Frontier" (Harris 1972) Son-of-a-bitch Stew (sometimes referred to as hunter's stew) is made with buffalo, deer, moose, bear, elk, and perhaps a beaver tail. Organ meats were included too, hot peppers if available, a pint of rum might be added but no other water or vegetables. After several hours of simmering a gravy was made if flour was available, and maybe dumplings on the top. Sturdy stuff for sturdy men! Although I never made this recipe as it appears in the book (I do like vegetables in mine!) I took the idea of multiple meats and have incorporated that into this recipe.

Inspiration for the name of this recipe came from Hopkins County Stew, from a book entitled "A Taste of Texas" (McDuff 1949). This stew is made with chicken (including giblets), bacon, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, turnips if you like them, and corn. The corn is the deciding feature. The basic stew is cooked seven hours, then the corn is added toward the end, so that only the kernels of corn retain their individual identity. This recipe contributes the basic cooking procedures and variety of vegetables as well as the corn.

My newest favorite stew recipe came from a country music magazine article on the Bellamy Brothers. Their recipe for Chili Stew (which I'll make another entry for) calls for the typical beef, potatoes and onions, with the addition of green and Serrano chilies, chopped cilantro, fresh kernel corn, and is served with cheese on top. I can't quite to the Serrano chilies, but the other south-of-the border seasonings appealed to me.

So, here's the process, and suggested measurements. As with all good stews, you adjust to suit yourself as you are cooking. If you are interested in dutch oven cooking this is a good recipe to try. Cook the meat over a fairly hot fire in the early morning, add the other items, cover and bury in coals and pull it out in the evening. Add the corn and reheat before serving.

*Hays County Stew

Calculate the basic ingredients - for every 5 people use
3 slices bacon
2 pounds of meats cut in 1 inch cubes
You must use at least three different types of meats. Beef steak, chicken, pork, game meats of any type, and meats that are spiced like brats or other cased sausages are great. Just slice them in roughly the same size as the other meats. The best batch of this stew we ever made had about six different types of meat.
4 potatoes
1 pound tomatoes
2 onions, chopped in small chunks
fresh garlic
preferred spices (thyme, basil, sage, bay, leaf etc.)
1 small can diced green chilies (more if you like, or use diced fresh and any type of chili you like)
4 ears of fresh corn (slice off the kernels), or one can whole kernel corn
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup of grated jack or cheddar cheese

Chop up the bacon and frizzle till the grease is all cooked out. Remove the brown bits and add the chopped meats. Brown, pulling of extra liquid as it cooks.
Save the liquid and chill it so the fat can be skimmed off, then return the liquid to the stew later.

Once the meat is brown add the onions and cook them until they start to become translucent, the add the potatoes, tomatoes and chilies. Add back in the liquid you saved (after skimming the fat) and the bacon bits. Reduce heat and simmer for several hours (5-6). If the pot becomes dry add a can of beer or additional water. Cover with coals if cooking this dutch oven style and let it simmer along without opening for at least 2 hours, then check to see if it needs more liquid.

As serving time approaches open up the kettle and stir in the cilantro and the corn (drain the liquid if using canned). Get the stew good and hot again, and top with the grated cheese when serving.

A salad and corn bread or baking powder biscuits complete the meal.

*Hays County, our place of residence in Texas, is named for John "Jack" Coffee Hays, famous Texas Ranger.

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