Brunswick Stew – A Dish of Muddy Origins


 Brunswick Stew – A Dish of Muddy Origins


Where was Brunswick Stew, that venerable, spicy, delicious concoction of meat, tomato, butterbeans and corn, created? Several places named Brunswick claim it, including in Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina. There is general agreement, however, that the dish began as a hunter’s stew made from boiled squirrel -- or possum – with hot peppers and local vegetables.


Brunswick Stew – A Dish of Muddy Origins
In front of the Farmers Market at Mary Ross Waterfront Park in Brunswick, Georgia, an iron cauldron sits atop an aged stone pedestal engraved tombstone-like with these exact words, “In this pot the first Brunswick Stew was made on St Simon Island, July 2 1898.”


Unfortunately, another memorial pot in Brunswick claims the stew was made a in the Brunswick-Golden Isles area in early colonial days. And a local newspaper account in Petersburg, Virginia, in 1855 cites the origins of the stew as Brunswick County, VA. Finally, a  Georgia newspaper ad from 1871 for one Med Henderson’s saloon in Savannah promotes a lunch special, “Old Virginia Brunswick Stew.”  As I reviewed the evidence for an article on Brunswick Stew that I wrote for Boom Magazine here in Athens, Georgia, it was hard to escape the conclusion that the stew was created in Brunswick County, VA. But the claims and counter-claims are fun.


Regardless of its geographic or culinary origins, the stew is now a thick, fragrant and satisfying mixture of well-cooked chicken and/or pork, hot peppers, and colorful vegetables. The Virginia and Georgia versions vary, but locally each cook makes his or her stew differently as well. The stew is typically sold at barbecue restaurants, mostly as a side dish, along with the beans, mac and cheese, and coleslaw. Unfortunately, at many of these restaurants Brunswick Stew is just a mixture of their already-barbecued meat, tomatoes, vegetables and their regular barbecue sauce, rather than an exciting dish in its own right.


Here’s my version of Brunswick Stew. The recipe makes several quarts, enough to eat with family and friends, with perhaps some left to enjoy at a later meal. (Leftover stew can be frozen.) Serve it in large soup bowls, accompanied by corn bread or biscuits. Offer bottled hot sauce, which diners can add to their stew if they wish. And a fresh salad is always nice.


2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast

A little oil for frying

1 medium-large onion

3-inch piece of celery

2 medium-large jalapeño peppers (including seeds)

2 quarts water or water plus part chicken broth

1 large or 2 medium potatoes (red or golden preferred over russet)

2 tablespoons Lea & Perrins’ Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste

2 teaspoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons paprika

3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 (12-ounce) package frozen butterbeans or “baby” lima beans, still frozen

2 medium ears fresh yellow corn, or 1 (12-ounce) package frozen corn kernels


Trim off excess fat and any tough parts of the chicken (save these trimmings). Cut chicken into roughly 1-1/2-inch pieces.


In a heavy pot, gently fry the chicken trimmings, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot. When the scraps are fried and golden, remove them from the pot (they make great treats for a pet). Add a little vegetable oil to the pot, if needed, to make about 2 tablespoons of drippings. Fry the chicken pieces together in the pot, turning and scraping frequently, until all the raw color is gone.


Meanwhile, prepare the onion, celery and jalapeños and chop them finely, either in a food processor or with a chef’s knife on a cutting board.


When the chicken has lost all its raw color, add the chopped vegetables and fry gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch pieces.


Add the water and the peeled, cubed potatoes to the chicken and vegetables and bring back to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. With slotted spoon remove the chicken to a bowl (it’s OK if some potato comes with it) and break up remaining potato pieces with a big spoon against the side of the pot or use a potato masher. Chop up the chicken in the bowl with the end of a metal spatula, or cut it up coarsely, part at a time, on the cutting board with a chef’s knife. Add the chicken back to the pot. Add the Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, salt, brown sugar and spices. Simmer five minutes. Break up any chunks of potato that appear.


Add the can of tomatoes with its juices, plus the butterbeans or lima beans. Bring back to a boil, and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes, or until the beans are tender, stirring occasionally. If using fresh corn, cut the kernels off the cobs with a sharp knife. Add either fresh or frozen corn to the soup, and simmer 5 minutes. If the stew is too thick, add a little water. Remove pot from the heat and taste for salt. Add a little if needed.


The stew can be served now, or cooled and reheated later. Offer hot pepper sauce for diners who wish their stew spicier.

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