Brunswick stew is one of the great, and one of the oldest, comfort food dishes of the American South. That said, if you were to quiz twenty Southerners about its ingredients you might get at least that many answers. The Brunswick, Virginia version uses chicken, rabbit, or squirrel as a meat base. In Brunswick, Georgia, hickory-smoked pork and beef are preferred. In both cases, however, this main course dish is a very thick concoction of slow-cooked meat and the New World vegetables included in succotash: lima beans, corn, and tomatoes. Perhaps some peppers and potatoes, too. And, as one might expect of a Southern stew, it is typically served with cornbread or buttermilk biscuits.
In the following recipe, I have sought to approximate the flavors of the best Brunswick stew I have ever eaten, made with leftover hickory smoked chicken and pulled pork, using ingredients that are more likely to be accessible to non-Southern readers. I have thus opted for a middle ground between the Virginian and Georgian versions of the dish, which seems appropriate considering my maternal family’s ancestral origins in — yep, you guessed it! — Brunswick County, North Carolina.
1 1/2 pounds bone-in chicken pieces, skin removed
1 pound meaty smoked ham hocks or smoked ham
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 quart water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 yellow onions, peeled and chopped
1 large garlic clove, peeled and finely minced
1 medium-sized green bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 pounds fresh or frozen lima (or young butter) beans
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon or more ground chipotle (or other smoked, hot chili pepper)
1 pound fresh or frozen sweet corn kernels (the “Silver Queen” variety is particularly good here)
1 tablespoon hickory-flavored barbeque sauce (yes, I’m serious)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste
- In a large stock pot, simmer the chicken, ham, chicken broth, and water for approximately one hour or until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. Remove the chicken and ham from the broth and, when sufficiently cool to handle, shred the meat. Skim excess fat, if any, from the broth and return the meat and skimmed broth to the pot.
- In a frying pan, sauté the onions, garlic, and bell peppers in the olive oil until the onions are golden. Add the onion mixture, tomatoes, lima beans, crushed red pepper, and ground chipotle to the meat and broth in the stock pot. Simmer for approximately 30 minutes or until the lima beans are tender.
- Add the corn, barbeque sauce, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Correct the seasoning, if needed. Serves 8 or more as a main course stew.
Readers might enjoy this old recipe for Brunswick Stew, by Virginia S. Woodroof, posted at Welcome to Brunswick County, Virginia:
First catch your chicken, clean and cut them.
And in an iron pot you put them;
And water nearly to the top
And in it salt and pepper drop;
Boil slowly. Your tomatoes peel;
Put in a shin or so of veal;
And for the flavor, bear in mind,
A chunk of middling with the rind.
Next some onions you throw in,
The young and tender skin,
And butter beans do not forget;
And what is more important yet;
The corn, but do not be too fast,
For you must cut and add it last;
For better than the flour you’ll find it’ll do
To give some thickness to the stew.
Some lemon peel cut very thin
May now be added and stirred in,
And ere it is taken from the fire
Give it a dash of Worcestershire,
And soon you will hear its praises ring,
This is a dish fit for a king.