I’m really not sure how I feel about the final picture I took to illustrate the delicious stew I made this weekend. The one above comes from about halfway through the process. In general, it is hard to photograph an enticing picture of stew, since it is typically so brown and lumpy. Besides, what really makes stew wonderful is not the look of it but the rich and hearty aromas as they fill your house, the feel of the steam rising up from the bowl, and the warmth it generates as you swallow. So…I am saving the “results” picture for the end of the post, when you’ll (hopefully) be sufficiently hooked and convinced into making this stew yourself.
Though not my first stew of the fall, this is my first stew ever made with pork. I was a bit skeptical at first, but all of my willing guinea pigs agreed that this stew tasted like beef but without being as heavy and overly filling. The dumplings were another welcome addition, replacing large chunks of potatoes with a light and fluffy topping. I whole-heartedly recommend this to you for a Sunday dinner or even a weeknight meal, though the marinating step does require a bit more prep time than the usual slow cooker recipe.
This is not my first post extolling the virtues of the slow cooker, either. To recap: slow cookers are excellent because you can do the prep work ahead of time and all of the cooking takes place when you are busy doing other things (like working, running errands, or watching an entire James Bond marathon on the USA Network). The quality of the slow cooker’s results are directly related to the caliber of ingredients you use (i.e. no Campbell’s soup allowed), but a little fresh vegetable chopping or meat browning in the morning can make your evening homecoming heavenly. They are also very forgiving machines – if you have a good one, and fill the stoneware to the recommended capacity, you can really leave them on quite a bit longer than the recipe requires without much negative impact on the dish.
For this specific recipe, here is the schedule I recommend, based on whether you’re cooking for a busy weekday or a leisurely Sunday:
Weekday: The night before you want to serve the stew, prepare the marinade and put in the pork. Chop the onions, carrots and celery and store them together in a plastic bag or a container in your fridge. Refrigerate all overnight. The next morning, brown the meat and cook the veggies (approx. 20-25 minutes overall), put everything in the slow cooker and set it on low for the rest of the day. You could also blend the wet ingredients for the dumplings and store it in a jar in your fridge.
Weekend: Wake up late on Sunday. Eat a danish. Marinate the pork for an hour at room temperature while you chop all the vegetables. When you get around to it, brown the pork and veggies as directed and start the slow cooker on High for 4-5 hours.
Pork Stew with Sage and Onion Dumplings, adapted from The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes by Judith Finlayson
1 1/2 c. dry red wine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. cracked black peppercorns
2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder cut into 2 inch cubes
(whoops – mine were 1 inch cubes…If I had done 2 inch cubes I might have been out of the kitchen faster…)
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 onions, finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 stalks celery, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 Tbs. all purpose flour
1 Tbs. tomato paste
1 cup chicken broth
1 tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
2 cups of thawed frozen peas (I omitted the peas due to my husband’s allergy to all things green, but I think it would have brought a bit of brightness to the finished stew)
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. milk
6 green onions, white part only, roughly chopped
6 fresh sage leaves or 1/2 tsp. dried sage
Mix the red wine, thyme, garlic and cracked black pepper in a large mixing bowl. Add the cubed pork shoulder. Pork shoulder, if you haven’t seen it before, is usually packaged in stretchy netting before being shrink-wrapped. It is easy to work with but is quite fatty. I recommend trimming the excess fat off the meat before adding the pork cubes to the marinade. Let pork marinate for at least 1 hour at room temperature or up to 12 hours in the fridge.
Remove the pork from the marinade and pat the meat dry with paper towels, reserving the wine mixture. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then brown the pork cubes on all sides, working in batches to ensure the meat is not crowded in the pan. Once browned, move the cubes to the slow cooker insert.
In the same pan you used to brown the pork, place the onion, carrots and
celery. Stir to release some of the brown bits of pork on the surface of the pan, then cover and cook over medium-low heat for 8 minutes or until vegetables have begun to soften. Add the flour and stir to coat. Cook 1 minute, then stir in the tomato paste. Pour in the chicken broth, reserved wine marinade and salt – cook, stirring occasionally until the mixture thickens slightly, about 2-3 minutes. Pour the liquid and veggies over the meat in the slow cooker insert; tuck the bay leaf into the liquid.
Cook stew for 8-10 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high. Just before your time is up, start to make the dumplings. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. In a blender or food processor, blend the milk, egg, green onions, and sage until very smooth.
When the slow cooker time is up, stir in the green peas if using. Turn the dial to High. Mix the wet ingredients for the dumplings into the bowl with the dry ingredients. Stir to blend. The batter will be very light and airy. Drop it in large spoonfuls onto the surface of the stew, leaving over an inch between the dumplings so they don’t meld into one big dumpling like mine did (see above)… Cover the slow cooker and cook on high undisturbed (don’t lift the lid!) for another 30 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the dumpling comes out clean. Serve with bread or rolls for dipping and a nice simple salad for a great fall meal.
Without further ado…here’s my final picture. Let me know what you think: does it look appetizing at all? Are you glad I left it to the end? Would you prefer it at the start of the post? Do you want it taken out immediately? Let me know!
K – I can smell that bone-warming stew all the way to Cambridge. TASTY!
I think your picture placement is correct. It is necessary to have a final shot, and truly looks just as you hope stew would. The opening photo is a nice way to suggest the aromatic feast to come. Perhaps an accompanying stout or glass of vino would do the trick to punch up the final photo. Also a nice opportunity to show off your oenophile skills!
Keep it up! (and don’t forget to vote)
ohhh this sounds good! i love pork… and dumplings… and stew!! yum!!
Thanks guys – give it a try and let me know how yours turn out! Maybe you can get a better picture than I did 😉