New Castle News

November 11, 2011

Culinary Conversation: Cold weather means it’s time for soup

Lugene Hudson
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — As the days get colder, the issue is all about staying warmer.

The best way to do that and provide a hearty meal at the same time is to serve soup.

It’s a versatile dish and with so many variations — with or without meat, cream soups, purées, bisques, chowders and stews — it’s understandable why it is a favorite choice through the winter months and beyond.

For years, I have been making Brunswick stew, a recipe I first tasted at Chowning’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg. Naturally, I purchased a cookbook, which included that recipe.

An introduction indicates that all places named Brunswick from Canada to the Carolinas have tried to claim it for themselves.

Overall, Brunswick County, Va., seems to have the best claim for being the birthplace of this popular dish. In its heyday, the stew was served at all of Virginia’s tobacco curings and public gatherings.

The story goes that a hunting party in Brunswick County — provided with tomatoes, onions, cabbage, butter beans, red pepper, bacon, salt and corn — left one man behind to mind the commissary and have dinner ready at days’ end. Finally, he shot a squirrel — the only thing he could find within range of the camp — and threw it into the pot along with the vegetables. When it was served, everybody agreed that the squirrel, one of the finest and most tender of all wild meats, was what made the new stew perfect. Chicken is now substituted.

Brunswick stew benefits from long, slow cooking. It is a rule in some Tidewater homes never to eat Brunswick stew the same day it is made, as the flavor improves if it is left to stand overnight and reheated.

The recipe for the Cuban black bean soup was created by an executive chef at a hotel in Puerto Rico in the early 1970s and is located in another old tome, The Culinary Arts Institute American Family Cookbook.

This hardback version has more than 750 pages and I have probably turned to it more times than any other through the years. It is a bit battered but overall has stood the test in both appearance and use.

Brunswick Stew

Place chicken in 3 qts. water for a thin stew or 2 qts. for a thick stew in a large pot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil; then simmer until meat can easily be removed from bones, about 21⁄4 hours. Drain and reserve broth.

When cool enough to handle, remove and discard skin from chicken. Remove the bones and chop meat into chunks.

Add raw vegetables to broth and simmer, uncovered, until beans and potatoes are tender. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.

Add chicken, boned and diced, if desired, and the seasonings.

Note: If canned vegetables are used, include juices and reduce water to 2 qts. for a thin stew and 1 qt. for a thick stew.

Dutch-Style Chowder

Cook bacon in pan until crisp. Remove from pan to absorbent paper.

Pour off all except 1 tbsp. fat from pan. Add onion and cook until tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally.

Stir in soups, milk, water and corn. Heat thoroughly, stirring frequently.

Garnish chowder with bacon and parsley.

Cuban Black Bean Soup

 Put beans into a large heavy pot or Dutch oven and add boiling water; boil rapidly for 2 minutes. Cover tightly, remove from heat and set aside for one hour. Add salt to beans and liquid; bring to boiling and simmer, covered, until beans are soft.

Put in the garlic, cumin, oregano and vinegar into a mortar and crush to a paste.

Heat olive oil in large skillet. Mix in onions and green pepper and fry until onion is brown, stirring occasionally.

Thoroughly blend in the paste, then stir the skillet mixture into the beans. Cook over low heat until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, mix a small portion of cooked rice, minced onion, olive oil and vinegar in a bowl, and set aside to marinate. Add a soup spoon of rice mixture to each serving of soup.

(Note: The chowder and black bean recipes have not been tested.)