Stews have been a staple dish in many cultures for centuries, with evidence of their existence dating back thousands of years.
From the Amazonian tribes using turtle shells as vessels to the Romans cooking up lamb and fish stews, it’s clear that this hearty meal has stood the test of time.
But where did beef stew, one of the most popular variations, originate?
Let’s take a closer look at the history and evolution of this beloved dish.
Where Did Beef Stew Originate?
The exact origins of beef stew are difficult to pinpoint, as variations of this dish have been made in many different cultures throughout history. However, it is believed that the dish likely originated in Europe, where beef was a common meat source.
In Ireland, the famous Irish stew has been a staple dish for centuries. Made with lamb or mutton, potatoes, onions, and parsley, this hearty meal is a celebrated part of Irish cuisine. However, beef stew has also become a popular variation of this dish in many parts of the world.
In France, beef bourguignon is a classic stew made with beef, red wine, and vegetables. This dish originated in the Burgundy region of France and has become a beloved comfort food around the world.
In America, beef stew has been a popular dish since colonial times. Early settlers would often make stews using whatever ingredients they had on hand, including beef, vegetables, and spices. Today, beef stew remains a popular comfort food in many households across the country.
The Early Origins Of Stews
Stews have been around since ancient times, with evidence of their existence found in many cultures across the globe. The oldest known evidence of stew was found in Japan, dating back to the Jōmon period. The Scythians, an ancient nomadic people from Eurasia, were also known to make stews by boiling meat in an animal’s paunch over a bone fire. Amazonian tribes used turtle shells as vessels to boil entrails and other ingredients, while other cultures used large mollusk shells.
Primitive tribes who survived into the 19th and 20th centuries also boiled foods together, which is essentially what a stew is. The development of pottery around 10,000 years ago made cooking, and stews in particular, even easier. Any combination of two or more foods simmered in a liquid can be considered a stew.
In ancient Rome, there were recipes for lamb stews and fish stews in the cookbook Apicius de re Coquinaria. Le Viandier, one of the oldest cookbooks in French, also has ragouts or stews of various types in it. It is clear that stews have been a part of many different cultures for centuries and continue to be a beloved comfort food today.
Stews Around The World
Beyond Europe and America, stews have been a staple dish in many cultures around the world. In Mexico, pozole is a spicy and flavorful stew made with hominy, meat (usually pork or chicken), and a variety of toppings such as avocado, cilantro, and lime. This dish has been enjoyed for centuries and is often served during special occasions and celebrations.
In South India, sambar is a lentil and vegetable stew that is a staple in most households. Made with a variety of spices such as coriander, cumin, and turmeric, this dish is known for its bold flavors and warming qualities.
Moving to the Middle East, lablabi is a spicy chickpea stew that is often eaten for breakfast in Tunisia. The base soup is relatively mild, but diners can add their own garnishes such as harissa paste, olives, and boiled eggs to customize the dish to their liking.
In Ethiopia, a spicy chicken stew called doro wat is a beloved national dish. Made with chicken marinated in spices such as ginger and berbere (a blend of spices including chili powder, cumin, and coriander), this hearty stew is often served with injera (a type of sourdough flatbread) for scooping up the flavorful sauce.
Finally, in San Francisco’s Italian-American community, seafood stew (similar to cioppino) has been a favorite dish for generations. Made with tomatoes, seafood (such as shrimp, clams, and crab), and herbs such as basil and thyme, this stew is known for its rich and savory broth.
A Closer Look At Beef Stew
One of the most important aspects of a delicious beef stew is selecting the right cut of beef. While pre-cut stew meat may seem like a convenient option, it’s often difficult to tell where the meat came from and how it will taste. It’s best to buy large pieces of beef so that you know exactly what you’re getting.
When it comes to choosing the right cut, boneless beef chuck roast is a great option. This cut comes from the front shoulder of the steer and has a good ratio of fat to lean to connective tissue. This means that it will be flavorful and tender after being cooked low and slow in a stew.
It’s important to note that different muscles on a steer will have varying levels of tenderness and flavor. Muscles that get very little exercise, such as the tenderloin, are very tender but can be quite bland. Muscles that do a lot of heavy lifting, such as those in the front shoulder, are packed with flavor but also contain lots of connective tissue. This connective tissue is exactly what you want in a stew, as it will break down and soften during the long cooking process.
In addition to selecting the right cut of beef, adding flavorful ingredients like beef broth, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaf, and rosemary can take your beef stew to the next level. Stirring these ingredients until well combined will ensure that every bite is packed with delicious flavor.
The Emergence Of Modern Beef Stew
While beef stew has been a beloved dish for centuries, the emergence of modern beef stew can be traced back to the 1990s. In 1994, food writer Molly O’Neill published a recipe for “Old-Fashioned Beef Stew” in The New York Times. This recipe quickly became a staple in many households, as it was easy to make and used only four primary ingredients: beef, onions, carrots, and potatoes.
The simplicity of O’Neill’s recipe was a departure from the more complex stews of the past, which often included a wide variety of ingredients and spices. O’Neill’s recipe focused on the natural flavors of the beef and vegetables, allowing them to shine through without being overpowered by other ingredients.
Since then, many variations of modern beef stew have emerged, with different chefs and home cooks putting their own spin on this classic dish. Some recipes include additional vegetables like celery and mushrooms, while others use different types of meat like lamb or pork.
Despite these variations, the essence of modern beef stew remains the same: a hearty and comforting dish that is perfect for cold winter nights. Whether you prefer the classic Irish stew or the French-inspired beef bourguignon, there is no denying that beef stew has become a beloved part of many cuisines around the world.