I titled the post improv-a-stew because I've been talking to my offspring about the virtues of learning basic cooking techniques and flavoring combinations so you have them available as your tool kit to cook what you want without having to resort to a recipe. The stew described below followed no written recipe.
STEP ONE - Season your meat using a dry marinade technique
I'm using pork shoulder. There is a lot of fat on this but most will render out during the long, slow cooking.
I'm using a dry marinade of salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, dry sage and dry thyme and will let it sit over night. Marinating your meat like this will give you your first layering of flavors
STEP TWO - Brown your meat
This is a standard technique for braises and stews. The browning of the meat allows for caramelization of proteins which adds another one of your flavor layers. It also leads to the...
...Fond which is all the browned bits on the bottom of the pan that become part of the flavor base.
STEP THREE - Saute your aromatics
Your aromatics are a variety of vegetables that add sweet and bitter notes to the overall dish
In this case I'm using onions, garlic, carrots (the sweet elements) with celery and green bell pepper (the bitter elements). I also decided to put in a dried chile (thank you garden) as a heat element.
STEP FOUR - Deglazing
Once the aromatics are soft, you put in a bit of liquid and scrape all that good fond into the flavor base you are making. I'm using wine which adds an acidic element to the dish. Also certain flavors in food are soluble in alcohol so it helps bring out flavors from things you've already added.
STEP FIVE - Additions to the flavor base
After deglazing you add your cooking liquid for the stew/braise. This is usually some kind of stock. I used beef stock for this stew.
However there are number of flavor enhancements you can add that will make your stew more complex. All will make the overall flavor deeper. For this dish I chose:
Dehydrated tomatoes from my garden. They add sweet/sour elements
Rinds from Parmigiana Reggiano cheese. They add salty, umami elements
And finally a tiny bit of Thai Green Chile Paste. A tiny bit of this goes a long way. You don't even taste the Thai flavor. It just builds up the foundation of your flavor base
Everything ready for the oven
STEP SIX - Slow cook
That's the mantra for stewing and braising. This went in for 3 hours at 325 degrees.
STEP SEVEN - Clean up your cooking liquid
Sorry no pictures here. I like my stews and braises to have a nice smooth sauce and as little fat as possible. I find this is best done by making it a day ahead of time. When it is cooled overnight, all the fat comes to the top and is much easier to get out. I then heat it just enough to get liquid, take all the meat out and drain the cooking liquid to get all the flavor elements out.
STEP EIGHT - Add your vegetables
Wife and I love vegetables cooked in our stews and braises. We've been experimenting with a number of things since potatoes (which we love) have more calories than we want to ingest.
Here I have gone with carrots, daikon, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, and mushrooms. The kohlrabi and the sprouts were experiments. Yes on the first, no on the second was the verdict. And daikon is the bomb. It really absorbs flavors and gets nice and soft like a carrot.
Everything ready for another hour of cooking in this case on the stove top
STEP EIGHT - Eat :)
Our beautiful stew with loads of flavor, fork tender meat, and great tasty vegetables. Plus there was enough for us to freeze three more meals!