Let me fend off the Bless Her Heart hate mail before it starts.
I am publishing a Brunswick stew recipe that contains sausage. Not just any sausage but kielbasa, the Polish variety better-known in my hometown of Pittsburgh than my now-home of North Carolina.
That may seem like a profane addition to this Southern stew typically made with chicken, rabbit or squirrel plus tomatoes, butter beans, corn, potatoes and onions. I say “typically” because there’s a lot of disagreement about what ingredients make up traditional Brunswick stew and even disputes about where it originated: Virginia or Georgia.
But it caught my attention when it appeared in the May issue of Cook’s Country magazine because the story noted it was inspired by an Eastern North Carolina version.
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Cook’s Country is published by the same folks behind the America’s Test Kitchen TV show and Cook’s Illustrated magazine. I think of Cook’s Country as the more down-home version of Cook’s Illustrated with its exacting scientific method of recipe testing that attracts fans among those who are engineers or scientists by training. Not that the recipe testing isn’t as exacting in Cook’s Country but the recipes seem more approachable to regular home cooks like myself.
Cook’s Country Executive Food Editor Bryan Roof came across this recipe while on a research trip in South Carolina. He visited a lot of barbecue restaurants and tasted many disappointing versions of Brunswick stew. He described them as having “canned vegetable taste,” as if the liquid from the canned vegetables had been added to the stew.
Then Roof said he went to an oyster roast where Ryan Hicks, a Florence, S.C., caterer, was serving a Brunswick stew with that unusual addition of smoked sausage.
It tasted good. It had a nice viscosity to it. It wasn’t soupy. It wasn’t thin. It was a well-balanced version of it. Part of it was eating on the marsh at an oyster roast.
Bryan Roof, food editor of Cook’s Country magazine
“It tasted good. It had a nice viscosity to it. It wasn’t soupy. It wasn’t thin. It was a well-balanced version of it,” Roof recalled in a phone interview. “Part of it was eating on the marsh at an oyster roast.”
Roof came back to the test kitchen with Hicks’ recipe, which came from Hicks’ grandmother in Eastern North Carolina. Cook’s Country test cook Morgan Bolling tweaked the recipe to work even without Hicks’ BackYard BBQ Sauce, a vinegary sauce sold online and at South Carolina IGA and Piggly Wiggly stores.
Bolling made several versions, but the Eastern North Carolina won over the taste testers – and me.
It is so delicious that I won’t even mind those indignant emails and voicemails that may be headed my way.
Cook’s Country Brunswick Stew
“Recipes for this hearty Southern stew differ from region to region, but there are a few commonalities – meat (pork, chicken, beef, or game) and vegetables simmered in a tomato-based liquid. All too often, however, this stew becomes bogged down by too many additions. Our aim was to make a simple yet complexly flavored version. To start, we built our stew around a homemade barbecue sauce; browning the ketchup we were adding to the sauce gave it extra depth. Lean chicken breasts dried out, but chicken thighs, which contain more collagen, yielded more-tender meat. Adding kielbasa sausage gave our stew its smokiness, and staggering the addition of potatoes, tomatoes, lima beans, and corn to the pot ensured that all the vegetables finished cooking at the same time.” From the April/May 2016 issue of Cook’s Country magazine. One recipe tester’s note: Smash the fully cooked chunks of potatoes if you like a thicker stew.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped fine
3/4 cup ketchup
4 cups water
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
8 ounces kielbasa sausage, sliced 1/4 inch thick
6-8 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen lima beans
1/2 cup frozen corn
Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add ketchup and 1/4 cup water and cook, stirring frequently, until fond begins to form on bottom of pot and mixture has thickened, about 6 minutes.
Add chicken, potatoes, kielbasa, 6 tablespoons vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire, mustard, garlic powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, pepper flakes and remaining 3 3/4 cups water and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring frequently.
Transfer chicken to plate and let cool for 5 minutes, then shred into bite-size pieces with 2 forks. While chicken cools, stir tomatoes, lima beans and corn into stew and continue to simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Stir in shredded chicken and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire and cook until warmed through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and remaining vinegar (up to 2 tablespoons) to taste. Serve.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.