Aromatic Bases – Humble Beginnings

We’ve just enjoyed our first snow of the season, one good enough to warrant plowing by the county and some cautious driving for a day or two. Nothing nails down the arrival of winter quite like that first storm. Our critters make it known, in no uncertain terms, that this means it’s time for some serious hunkerin’ down, and frankly, when the wind is ripping out of the north from the Fraser river valley at 30 knots with gusts on toward 50, I couldn’t agree more. That means it’s also time for serious, rib sticking comfort food, like soups, stews, casseroles, and such. Doing those dishes up right means we’ve got to pay special attention to the humble beginnings of such dishes – the aromatic bases.

Aromatic bases literally make the food world go round
Aromatic bases literally make the food world go round

So, what’s with the humble moniker, first off? Well, it’s an honest nod to the fact that what we’re going to employ in this role is rarely sexy stuff. The stars of this show are, in fact, the things that all too often languish in our kitchen. This is the stuff many of us buy at the market because it’s pretty and we have big ideas on shopping day, only to find, many days later, they’ve gone by the wayside – Carrots, celery, onion, peppers, garlic, ginger, fennel, leeks, turnips, parsnips, celeriac, and tomato, to name a good few. In that comfort food I mentioned, these lowly contributors will often play second fiddle, and may, in many iterations, be difficult to identify within a dish – Humble beginnings, indeed.

Yet without these hidden gems adding their je ne sais quoi to our winter fare, what we get is a pale reflection of the real thing. They’re called aromatic bases for a reason. In addition to key vegetables, aromatics may include herbs and spices, and occasionally a little protein as well. Gently sautéed or sweated in a little oil or stock, the magic is released – Our dishes gain the satisfying depth and breadth they demand. Literally every cuisine around the world employs some form of aromatic base, from here in the states to the farthest reaches of China. Some are more famous than others, some quite obscure, but no less worthy of exploration. Something as simple as a one veggie change in a standard mix can bring about entirely new flavors, and in many iterations, that’s exactly what has happened. Let’s have a look at a few of these.

Mirepoix - 50% onion, 25% each carrot and celery
Mirepoix – 50% onion, 25% each carrot and celery

The French Mirepoix is arguably the most well known aromatic mix out there – Technically, (and in keeping with classic French cooking’s fussy reputation), mirepoix is two parts onion to one part each celery and carrot, and the portions are weighed to assure an accurate blend – That’s more precision than you need or likely want at home, so eyeballing or volume measuring those proportions is just fine. So, whataya do with mirepoix? More like what can’t you do with it. First and foremost in my mind is making stock and broth – Without it, you’ve got bupkis, with it, you’ve got depth and breadth of flavor like nobody’s business. D’accord, it’s also a base for soups, sauces, and stews, a bed for roasting meats and poultry, a great salad blend, and the list goes on. If you’re a regular here, you know how often you see us use it. ‘Nuff said.

Spanish sofrito looking particularly fetching
Spanish sofrito looking particularly fetching

In Spain, the signature mix pays homage to gifts from the new world that arrived many centuries ago, namely tomatoes and chiles. Initially viewed with some suspicion, the locals eventually recognizing the error of their ways and adopted these gifts as the heart of their go-to aromatic base. Before that, especially up north in Catalonia, the signature mix was onion, leek, carrot and a touch of salt pork. Afterwards, tomato, green chile (Mild, but not sweet – Anaheims or mild Hatch are perfect), onion, and garlic, with a little olive oil and paprika became the thing – Sofrito, which still rules the roost. This kind of blend spread across the Spanish empire, and as a result, everything from the tip of South America through Mexico and the Caribbean employs some variation on the theme. From the Spanish dishes that blend indigenous cuisine with Moorish and new world influence, to Cuban picadillo, it’s everywhere you want to be.

Recaíto - A slice of Puerto Rican Heaven
Recaíto – A slice of Puerto Rican Heaven

My favorite variation on sofrito comes from Puerto Rico, where I was introduced to it as a kid. Recaíto is the name, and it looks absolutely nothing like the Spanish stuff – it’s fueled by Culantro, (eryngium foetidum), or foul thistle. That’s a cilantro cousin, but much more pungent – stronger in all the aspects that cause some folks to not like either herb. Combined with aji dulce, (a small local pepper that looks suspiciously like a scotch bonnet, but is sweet and mild), onions, garlic, and a little cubanelle chile for a touch of heat, you’ve got a green sauce made in heaven. That alone with good rice is absolutely delicious. It’s also great as a marinade for proteins, and as a base for, you guessed it, soups and stews. Recaíto is perfect stuff to stick in an ice cube tray and freeze – Instant inspiration at your finger tips.

Italian Soffritto - Don’t call it mirepoix!
Italian Soffritto – Don’t call it mirepoix!

Around the corner in Italy, the base of bases looks something like France’s, but naturally is different enough to brook argument over who came up with what first, (Don’t get me, or all them folk, started, OK?) It’s fundamentally the same as mirepoix, but with important twists – It’s called Battuto when it’s raw, and soffritto when cooked (I think the extra consonants are there to make sure you truly understand that this ain’t Spain). Onion, carrot, celery, parsley, and garlic, sautéed in olive oil. In keeping with Italian temperament, there are no recognized ratios, and if you ask, you’ll get a blank stare, a loaded shrug, and raised eyebrows – Translation – Do what you like, it’s your food. What to do with the raw blend? Make a big ol’ batch and freeze it in single use sized portions – Then you’ve got your base ready when you’re short on time and long on inspiration. Finely dice a little smoked ham and mash that together with your battuto – Toss that in a pan with olive oil as the start of an epic pasta sauce – Capiche? We can’t leave Italy without a nod to the third variant and coolest variant of their aromatic base concept, Odori. When I was in Italy many moons ago, shopping with my Sis who studied there, a trip to the market for vegetables included the question from the vendor, ‘vuoi qualche odore?’ Literally, do you want some smells? If you nodded, they’d toss a carrot, a stalk of celery, a little parsley and basil in your bag, gratis – That was just a little something to get things going once you got back home – Toss it in a pot with water and make whatever you like – It’s your food. How sweet is that? Grazie, mille grazie.

Portugal has heavenly stuff called Refogado – onion, garlic, chiles and tomato, though there are more than a few cooks there who would refute that, and point to onion, garlic, saffron, and smoked paprika as the true mix, (and truth be told, that’s my fave) – I’d say you’re hard pressed to lose going either way. This mix is amazing with seafood, which is no surprise, or course, but good with much more than just that.

Say Cajun and you want the Holy Trinity
Say Cajun and you want the Holy Trinity

Here in the States, we have one true base we can lay claim to, thanks to the Cajun folk – It’s called the Holy Trinity – onion, celery, and green pepper, and really, nothing else, although some folk do like to whip a little roux right in with that as it cooks, to kind of get a leg up on things, yeah? The usual ratio has a couple of camps – those who do equal measures of each, and those who portion like mirepoix, 50% onion, 25% pepper and celery. Whip that up, and jambalaya, gumbo, and anything else your heart desires is on tap.

How about some of the lesser known versions? Well, there’s suppengrün in Germany, which means soup greens and is perfect for same – It’s carrot, celery root, and leek, (and for the record, celery root is the root of the celery you buy in the store, and while related, it is not the same as celeriac). This stuff goes wonderfully with silky potato soup, or braised beef and cabbage.

There’s a version in Hungary that employs onion, cabbage, and paprika – I think that begs for sausage and potatoes, and I’m willing to bet nobody over there would argue much with that.

Although the cuisine of China is highly regionalized, one could land on scallion, ginger, and garlic for their more or less universal trinity. Heck, that combo with nothing more than good soy sauce is amazing in and of itself – From dipping sauce, to moisture for fried rice, to marinade for pork or chicken, you’re in like Flynn.

In India, garlic, ginger and onion would work. Just set your mind’s eye on that, and all sorts of things come to mind – From chick peas to chicken, that blend will rock.

Jamaica could be well represented by garlic, scallion, and thyme – Add that to lime juice and some hot chiles, and the sky’s the limit.

Most West African cuisines share chile, onion, and tomato as their big trio, and here again, what a great launching pad. Tofu, rice, veggies, chicken, beef – Yes to all of the above.

In Thailand, you’d be on the money with lemon grass, kafir lime, and galangal, for which ginger is a reasonable substitute. Marinate shrimp, chicken, or beef. Rice dishes, soups and stews.

Making your own aromatic base? Yes, you can add seasoning.
Making your own aromatic base? Yes, you can add seasoning.

Now, none of this veggie laden listing is meant to state in any way that This Is The Way It Must Be Done. Even with mirepoix, there’s poetic license. I’ll add two caveats to that – One, cut your veggies to the same size, whatever that is – That’ll assure even cooking, and Two – Season your base lightly with salt and pepper when you cook it – That’ll do much to bring those flavors to their fullest.

What it does mean is that you’ve now got a solid base from a whole bunch of cuisines to springboard from. While there are herbs here and there in the stuff above, know this – Just as every Italian Momma makes the best sauce, period, every one of them does it differently, and so should you. Use what you like, it’s your food. Not sure if something goes with that combo? Build a tiny little sample and try it – If you like it, go wild.

I just posted a bunch of pics of split pea soup the way we do it, which includes lemon zest and juice – A bunch of people asked, “Lemon, with split pea soup?” The answer is yup, we love it – That lemon brings a brightness to what can be a heavy soup, elevates the herbs we use, and helps cut the fat of the ham a bit too – If that sounds good to you, try it. If you don’t like lemon, try lime, orange, grapefruit, whatever floats your boat. And for the record, the aromatic base for that is shallot, garlic, celery, and carrot, and it rocks.


Smoked Chicken Stew

So, from last nights butterflied, grilled chicken, I saved the carcass and made stock and stew therefrom. If you’re not doing this kind of thing on a regular basis, you really need to be reading this blog more often.
Here’s how.

For the stock,
1/2 sweet Onion
1 Carrot
1 stalk Celery
2 Bay leaves

Rinse, trim and then chop veggies to uniform rough dice. Note: Can’t tell you how often I see home cooks throw out celery tops with leaves on them, or how wrong that is. Especially when using celery for mirepoix, making stock, etc, you want those leaves; they pack beautiful, delicate celery flavor, and impart it to other foods better than the stalks do.

Glean any appreciable meat from the chicken and reserve for lunch, (we didn’t have any left, frankly, and we’ll be using breast meat for the making of this stew anyway…)

Everything goes into a stock pot over high heat with enough water to cover well, about 3/4 gallon. As soon as things start to simmer, reduce heat to just maintain that, and let it go for at least 2 hours and up to 4. As you lose water to cooking, gradually add more. Ideally, you want to end up with about 8-10 cups of lightly colored and flavored stock. That is rather light as stock goes, but we’re making a robust stew that will pack its own flavors; this is just the canvas…

Remove from heat, discard all the big chunks by straining through a colander. Chill the rough stock in a large bowl in the freezer until most of the fat has risen to the top. Skim that off, then clarify the stock once or twice by running it through a chinoise or strainer.

Return stock to a stock pot over medium heat.

For the stew,
2 Carrots
2 stalks Celery
3 Red Potatoes
1 Tomato
1 Lemon
2 cloves Garlic
1/4 sweet Onion
2 sprigs Cilantro
Extra virgin Olive Oil
White Wine
Black Pepper
Smoked Salt

Rinse and trim all veggies. Cut carrots, celery, potatoes, tomato, onion and cilantro to a fairly uniform rough dice, about 1/2″ pieces. Mince the garlic and cilantro and toss everybody but those into the stew pot.

Heat a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat. Toss in onion and sauté until it starts to go translucent. Add garlic and sauté about another minute. Add a splash of white wine and continue sautéing until the raw alcohol is burned off. Toss all that into the stew pot. This step, done with strong aromatic veggies like onion and garlic, adds a nice richness to a soup or stew, and helps tame the raw heat they can pack.

For the chicken, you can smoke it over your grill, barbecue or smoker with a bit of smoking wood, pellets, what have you, or you can cheat like I did. If you’re a regular here, you know how much I love Butcher & Packers hickory smoke powder. As advertised, it gives a pure taste of hickory smoke and nothing else. I’ve fooled Texas BBQ snobs with this stuff. Saves a bunch of time and sacrifices nada in the process; try it. They also make chipotle powder, and powdered mesquite, which are equally fabulous. 

Dirty Rotten Cheater’s Smoked Chicken,

2 Cups Chicken Breast
1/2 Cup Whole Grain White Flour
1-2 teaspoons Smoke Powder
1/2 teaspoon Smoked Salt
1/2 Teaspoon ground black Pepper
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

Cut chicken into roughly 3/4″ dice.

Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a large sauté pan over medium high heat.

Combine flour, smoke powder, salt and pepper in a paper bag, (amount of smoke is up to you). Add the chicken and shake until all the chicken is thoroughly coated. Remove the chicken and tap/shake off excess dredge.

Add chicken to pan and allow it to cook long enough to sear well on all sides. You want to develop a genuine, caramelized crust, so don’t play with it too much or turn it too often. Keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn.

Once the chicken is well seared, transfer it to the stew pot and stir it in well. Turn heat down until you’re at a nice low and slow temperature, with no signs of simmering.

Let the stew cook for at least two hours. Slice the lemon into quarters. Add the juice from half to the stew, reserve the others for service. Adjust seasoning with smoked salt and pepper. Stir regularly, taking care to make sure stuff isn’t sticking to the bottom. The regular stir helps release the dredge from the chicken and combine it with fats, which is what is going to thicken your stew. If you like things thicker yet, microwave an extra Yukon potato, mash it with a tablespoon of butter, and stir that into the stew as well.

Serve with crema, sliced lemon, our jalapeño-cheddar cornbread, and a nice, cold Negro Modelo.

Great Stew Fer Yew

A few weeks back, we covered Burgoo. Just like that regional specialty, there’s no one genuine beef stew recipe, but there sure is a right way to do it.

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The lovely Mrs. Atwater has a favorite jibe she uses from time to time. When I make stew with any method other than the one we’re gonna share here, she tries the finished product, smiles sweetly and says “Good soup, Dear.” Funny girl…

Fact is, she’s pretty much right. If you want the real McCoy, you gotta follow the right path to getting there; that means making as much as you can from scratch; here’s how.

Like homemade chili or chicken noodle soup, stew is a critical component to making it through the long, cold winter months. A great stew will feed you and yours several times, and truth be told, gets better in the couple of days after its made.

The first must-do is to make your own stock. Get in the habit of saving beef and pork bones, poultry carcasses, and fish heads and racks. If you’re not ready to use them right away, freeze ’em for later, every time. These are the key to killer homemade stock. The other thing you’ll need is mirepoix, (meer pwah), the go-to veggie blend for many good things. It’s super easy to do.

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50% Onion
25% Celery
25% Carrot

It’s definitely a best practice to collect enough bones and devote a day to stock making. Stock freezes easily and is great to have ready any time. If you just get a sudden jones for stew and don’t have any ready to go, it’s no big deal to whip out a small one-time batch, so that’s what we’ll do.

One medium onion, a couple of stocks celery and a couple small carrots will do. Rough chop everything, meaning big ol’ 1″ chunks are fine, just make everybody about the same size.

If you were just making veggie stock, you might add a tomato, a clove of garlic, some parsley or cilantro, a splash of olive oil and call it good right there. If you’re making critter stock, then we’ve got a bit more to do first. For this stew, the bones from a good family steak night will work just fine; if you don’t have any on hand, then pick up some soup bones when you buy beef for this recipe. Ask your butcher if you don’t see any handy.

We could just simmer this stuff gently in nice, fresh water; this will make what is generally referred to as a white stock if you’re doing critter. You’ll get the essence of whatever your simmering, but roasting them is gonna make things much more interesting. That’s where we get into the dark stock world.

Preheat your oven to 375° F. It’s time to develop some nice, deep caramelized flavors.

Put your bones onto a sheet pan, drizzle a little olive oil on them, a sprinkle of good salt, and a twist or three of ground pepper. Slide the pan onto a middle rack and let the magic begin for about 30 minutes; your bones should be nicely browned when they’re ready for the next step.

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Slide the pan out, add the mirepoix with a bit more oil, salt, and pepper, then slip everything back onto that middle rack for another 20 minutes.

One last step, grab a healthy smear of tomato paste and give the bones a nice, even coating of that. Continue roasting for another 10 minutes. The tomato adds a bit of richness and color to the stock, and the acidity helps breakdown bone and connective tissue.

Pull everybody out of the oven and toss them into a stock pot with a gallon of fresh water. Bring evening to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, toss in 2 Bay leaves and go find something to do for a couple hours.

When you come back to the stock, you’ll likely see some fat floating on the surface. Get as much of that as you can with a fine mesh strainer, or use a paper towel to blot it up.

Pour your stock carefully through a fine mesh strainer or chinois; if you have cheese cloth on hand, (Which you aughta, by the way), strain through that. Strain at least a couple times so that you get the chunks and bits and whatnot out of your stock and end up with a relatively clear liquid.

Now taste it: If you had questions as to why we went through all that just for a pot of stew, they should now be answered. Carefully pour that stock back into a nice, big soup pot over the lowest heat you got.

Alright, let’s get after it. We’re gonna do beef stew, because that’s what we’ve got that needs using, but again, you can use venison, elk, moose, bear, whatever you have in your freezer that needs using. You can use dang near any cut for stew, and frankly, the cheaper the better; it’s a major reason why stew is a great freezer cleaner dish.

Cut your meat into roughly 3/4″ cubes, and trim out any really big hunks of fat or gristle.

Now it’s searing time. This is one of the non-negotiable steps to making a great beef stew, (And to keep Mrs. Atwater from calling it soup). To paraphrase Yosemite Sam, when I say sear, I mean sear, and browning ain’t searing, FYI. Here’s how we do it.

Preheat a dry, heavy frying or sauté pan over medium-high heat; cast iron is perfect for this. Let the pan get truly heated through before you add meat; when a drop of water dances like a maniac when introduced to the pan, it’s ready.

Prepare a coating of
1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground Pepper

Throw that in a bowl or plastic bag, add your meat and get all of that thoroughly and evenly coated. Tap or shake the meat as you pull it out to remove excess coating. The coating not only facilitates the searing of meat, it provides all the thickening you’ll need for your stew.

Now, start searing meat in batches. Put enough into the pan to make a single layer and no more. Leave the beef in there, untouched, long enough for it to form a fond, a nice, deep brown, sticky glaze; that’ll take a good 3 to 5 minutes a side. The fond is the lion’s share source of those glorious roasted, nutty flavors that make people roll their eyes when the eat. Let that fond form before you stir/flip/turn your beef, and let it form on all sides before you start the next batch. Keep a constant hand and eye on this process; you want seared, not burned! Throw your seared meat into the stock pot.

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Grab a bottle of good local beer or ale; I like a nice winter ale, porter, or even a stout for this job, for their nice, deep caramel taste notes. Pour it into a bowl and set it aside; we’re just looking to let it flatten for a bit while we work.

Return your attention to that pan you seared the beef in; peel and fine dice,
1 small Sweet Onion
2 cloves of Garlic

Toss the onion into the pan and sauté until it starts to go translucent; add the garlic and continue to sauté, taking care not to let the garlic burn. When they’re done, toss them into the stock pot with the meat.

With your pan still on medium-high, pour in the beer and let it go to work. As the beer starts to simmer, grab a spoon or spatula and start working loose all that stuff on the bottom of the pan. That’s concentrated goodness and it’s all gong in the stew. Work all those bits into the beer and allow it to reduce for about 5 minutes, concentrating the flavors and allowing the alcohol to dissipate. Pour that all into the stock and give it a good stir.

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Allow your stew to work for the first hour with nothing else in it. This will let the marriage between meat and stock to come to full fruition.

Now, the other thing that ain’t negotiable with great stew is low and slow for the cooking. You must allow at least 2 hours and 4 is better. If you have a crock pot hiding in the cupboard somewhere, pull it out and use it. If not, then turn your chosen burner down to low and leave it there.

Alright, it’s taste time, so we can adjust seasoning. All you really need is good salt and pepper, but here again, do what you like. We find a shot of Tabasco, Worcestershire, and a touch of Turkish Oregano nice as well. You can use smoked salt and/or pepper, or anything else you like, in moderation: Just make sure that the meat and stock are the stars of the show.

Now it’s veggie prep time. Classic beef stew is nothing more than carrot, potato and a little more onion, but you can and should add what you like to yours. In addition to those staples, we like crushed tomatoes, celery, peas, green beans, a little sweet corn and some cilantro; again, do what you like. Cut everybody into a uniform dice, about 1/4″ to 1/2″ so they’re reasonably bite sized and will cook evenly.

Throw everybody into the pot, cover it and let it go for at least another hour and again, 2 or 3 is better yet. Stir occasionally, getting all the way down to the bottom so everything is nicely incorporated.

Serve nice and hot, with a little sour cream for those that like it, and maybe a little Jalapeño-Cheddar corn bread.

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Here’s the basic recipe for your shopping or gathering needs; once again, this is our version, so you adjust the veggies and seasoning as you prefer!

2-3 Pounds meat, (Stew or Chuck are best cuts)
1-2 Pounds Beef Bones
1 Pound Potatoes, (a waxy variety works great)
1 large can crushed Tomatoes
2 sweet Onions
3-4 stalks Celery stalks
5-6 Carrots
1 Cup Peas
1 Cup sweet Corn
1 Cup Green Beans
2 cloves Garlic
5-6 stalks Cilantro
1 12 ounce bottle Beer or Ale
2 Bay leaves
Shot of Worcestershire sauce
Shot of Tabasco
Sea Salt and Pepper

Burgoo, by any other name…

Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of Burgoo, (Burr-GOO). Unless you’ve hung around Kentucky or folks therefrom, you’ve probably not been blessed with this spicy, thick, game laden stew. You shall be now.

French chef Gustave Jaubert, cooking for Confederate general John Hunt Morgan in 1860, is generally honored as the father of Burgoo. Some folks think that the name came from “Bird Stew” spoken in a thick French accent, since Jaubert’s first effort was reportedly made with blackbirds. After the war ended, the Buffalo Trace distillery hired Jaubert to cook for its employees, and in fact, a couple of his huge iron burgoo kettles still hang at the distillery.

While Jaubert prepared the goods in huge batches, you can do so in more manageable size.

There truly is no standardized Burgoo recipe. ‘Authentic’ and ‘genuine is kinda like chili; there as many recipes as there are cooks. Burgoo was made for game, and contains, to this day, anything from squirrel to game birds, though commercial outfits generally stick to beef, pork, chicken and mutton. Meats may be smoked or not as you see fit.

Vegetables are another free rein area; you can add as few or many as you like, which makes Burgoo making great for a hobo stew approach; have your guests bring a veggie and meat of choice and throw ’em all into the pot.

Finally, Burgoo should be nice and thick. Some folks use a roux, while others use day old bread or cornbread soaked in milk and crumbled, or even ground beans. Ours uses soup bones to thicken, which you should definitely try.

Many Burgoo cooks work in the order of cooking time needed, with the meats first, then the veggies, and finally the thickeners. There’s nothing wrong with throwing everything in at once if you like, either. As with all great stews, the longer and lower you cook, the better it gets.

Some folks really like stuff like cider vinegar, hot sauce, Worcestershire, or chili powder offered at table so they can doctor their own as they see fit. I’ll add that our cranberry BBQ sauce goes great here as well.

Cornbread, like our cheddar version, is the perfect side for Burgoo, along with plenty of nice, cold beer; look for a nice local pilsner or pale ale to cut the richness of the stew.

Here’s our take on a great Burgoo.

1 1/2 Pounds Meats (Venison, Game Birds, Elk, Bear, Moose, Hog, etc.)
2 Cups each Chicken & Beef Stock
2 beef or pork leg bones, with plenty of marrow
1 28 oz can Diced Tomatoes
1 28 oz can Tomato Purée
1 Can White Beans
2 large Red Potatoes
1 large Sweet Onion
2 Carrots
2 Stalks Celery
1 Green Pepper
1 Cup Peas
1 Cup Green Beans
1 Cup Corn
3 Cloves Garlic
3/4 Cup Tomato Catsup
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 Cup Cider Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Liquid Smoke
1/2 Cup Flour for coating
8 Cups Water
Sea Salt and fresh ground Pepper to taste

You’re gonna need a BIG stock pot for this!

Make a nice mix of bird to other game as you see fit; feel free to use chicken, beef, or pork in the mix augmented with game if you wish. Cut all meat into bite sized pieces.

Put flour in a gallon ziplock bag, add meat and shake well to coat.

Add a few shakes of salt to the bottom of the stock pot over medium high heat. Add all the meat and brown evenly.

Add stock and tomatoes to meat and stir well.

Dice all whole veggies evenly, and mince the garlic. Frozen or canned is fine for the veggies that aren’t fresh; rinse the canned stuff thoroughly before adding.

Add water, then throw all the veggies into the pot and mix well.

Allow the stew to heat through; once it starts to boil, reduce heat so it’s just lightly simmering.

Add the catsup, Worcestershire, vinegar, cayenne, liquid smoke, and the bones, then stir well.

Leave uncovered and allow to simmer for at least 4 hours, (more is better); add water as needed throughout.

If you want things a bit thicker, soak a couple pieces of day old bread in milk for about 10 minutes, then wring it dry by hand, and crumble it into the stew and stir well.