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To Stew or Not to Stew

March 23, 2010

Today’s topic comes from reader Jamie, who in response to a previous post wrote:

“It is said that in Europe in the Middle-Ages, stews were popular because there was an abundance of fuel but few hands to help with cooking. Stews could cook all day without supervision. Contrariwise, in China, there were plenty of hands but little fuel, so foods were cooked quickly in woks. Discuss the difference between slow-cooking and fast-cooking. Advantages? Disadvantages? Tips and tricks?”

That is an interesting historical look at cultural culinary techniques, and merits a discussion.  Slow cooking allows flavors to be absorbed, penetrating meats or veggies throughout.  It’s a way to tenderize meat, so that after a long period of slow-cooking, it just falls apart…no knives required for beef stew or pulled pork.  It’s also a marvelous time-saver; just throw a bunch of stuff in a crock-pot for 6 or 8 hours, go to work, run errands, etc., and then come home to a fully cooked meal.

A disadvantage to slow-cooking would be the variety of recipe options; there’s only so many dishes that can be slow-cooked, and they’re usually soups, stews, chili, etc., so the slow-cook method isn’t something you’d want to employ all the time (unless you dislike variety).

Fast-cooking allows for spontaneity; you don’t have to plan ahead, as long as you have the ingredients on hand.  You can adjust flavors and seasonings on the fly, and don’t need a lot of time to make your meal.  This also allows for a good deal of variety – you can make just about any non-stew-like meal in a skillet or wok; chicken, fish, beef, etc.; Asian, Italian, comfort food, etc…these can all be done using a fast-cooking method.

But fast-cooking is really dependent on seasoning and sauce.  The meats or veggies don’t have time to absorb flavors, so they have to be more dominant and bold.  Meats have to be cut into smaller pieces, so you don’t get that tender, juicy satisfaction of biting into a big piece of pork that’s been stewing all day.

So that’s our two cents on the subject.  Thanks to Jamie for your readership and your comment.  Enjoy!

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