If you have ever lived in south or central Virginia, it is likely you have heard of Brunswick stew. Until I moved to Richmond and started to date my husband, I had no knowledge of the thick tomato, potato, butter bean concoction. But once I did hear of it, I quickly realized that it is an institution in those parts (there are annual Brunswick Stew Festivals all over the state). A classic, beloved dish that is so satisfying it can cure any winter blues.
Of course, I didn’t always feel this way (truth be told, I didn’t even try it until last year – shout out to Souperb soups sold at Little House Green Grocery). I used to think the stuff was completely unappealing. My first memory of the dish comes from the first time my husband got sick when we were together. He had a pretty bad cold/flu keeping him down so I offered to pick him up some dinner – and by dinner I meant take-out. Now mind you, this was the time in my life when all I could do was boil water for plain noodles on the stove – otherwise I would have obviously cooked him up some homemade goodness. Anywho, he rejected the idea of takeout and said all he wanted was “Brunswick stew from the yellow can”. He had the habit of eating ramen and Chef Boyardee most of his college career so I immediately assumed this was another can of processed junk. It took a whole lot of searching, but I found what he was looking for at the Lombardy Street Kroger. A yellow can of “Mrs. Fearnow’s Delicious Brunswick Stew with Chicken”. Within minutes of consuming the southern comfort favorite, he was 100%! Just kidding, not really, but he was very, very happy. Like lazy-daying away in a swimming pool kind of happy.
Since then I’ve bought him a fair share of Mrs. Fearnow’s, but of course steered clear of making it myself. It is probably his most favorite dish and I just couldn’t take the pressure of trying to make something similar. But, as it is the holiday season now, and we are both pretty homesick, I finally caved. He did say that my stew was “surprisingly on point” and that it “tastes exactly like it is supposed to”. So, all in all, a complete success! It was so delicious that a whole Dutch oven full of the stuff was gone in two days.
If you’d like to know more about the stew and its lore, click here!
Brunswick Stew Recipe adapted from the Brunswick Stewmaster’s Association of Brunswick County, Virginia
1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken breast (thighs are traditionally used)
1 1/2 ounces fatback, cut into 4 long slabs
4 cups of low sodium chicken stock (water is traditionally used)
1 pound potatoes, peeled and chopped (I used Yukon Gold)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 – 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt, or to taste
3/4 – 1 tablespoon sugar
14 ounces canned, crushed, no-salt-added tomatoes plus their juices
14 ounces canned, drained butter beans (use fresh if in season)
14 ounces canned, drained white shoe peg corn, drained (use fresh if in season)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Smoked paprika to taste
Place the chicken and fatback in a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Cover with the chicken stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for about 1 hour. Discard the fatback, and help the chicken shred (it will happen easily) in the pot with two forks.
Next, add in the potatoes, onions, black pepper, cayenne pepper, salt and sugar. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are soft – roughly 30 minutes or so.
After, stir in the tomatoes, their juices and the butter beans. Cook for another 15-20 minutes and then stir in the corn and butter pieces. Let the stew cook on low, uncovered, for an hour longer so it becomes nice and thick.
Serve the stew hot and if you can’t eat it all, store it in the freezer (after it cools) for another day!