Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Crock Pot Luck

I have a soft spot in my heart for southern (American) food. Be it lowcountry vittles, Cajun spice, smokey barbeque, city-fied soul food, or deep south home cookin'— I perpetually have a hank'rin for those eats. If it's fried, smothered, pulled or burl'ed I'll eat it. Because of my addiction to this cuisine, I have a tendency to cook quite a bit of it—much to the chagrin of both my wife and waistline. This past weekend, I made a southern staple that I've been wanting to make for some time—Brunswick stew.

I did not take this photo.
I wish I did, but alas,  it was
Randy Major and Leigh Ann Ross.
Brunswick stew comes from the idea that if you put a whole bunch of stuff in a pot and cook it all day, it's going to taste good—and it usually does. There are as many origin myths behind this meaty concoction, as there are recipes—some say it came from Brunswick, Georgia while others claim Brunswick County Virginia—hell, even Braunschweig, Germany gets thrown into the mix. The general consensus is that it should be made from more than one kind of meat—usually pork, chicken or beef, but wild game is also common; various vegetables—especially lima beans, corn and tomatoes, and sometimes okra and potatoes; The consistency should be thick, with more meat and veggies than broth; and last but not least, it should have some smokiness to it—you get this by using barbecue sauce or, better yet, left over barbecued meats and sauce. There are slight variations on it, depending on where you travel, but that's the general criteria.

That guy sure makes you want to drink beer.
What I did was: Let three country-style pork ribs and two boneless chicken thighs, chill-out in the fridge overnight, after a pat-down with my barbecue rub (any barbecue spice rub will work—homemade or store bought). That same night I mixed 1/2 a cup of homemade barbecue sauce (again, store bought is fine) with 1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce and 1/2 a cup of North Carolina, Piedmont style, vinegar-based, barbecue sauce. I got mine from Ralph's BBQ, in Weldon, NC—but a homemade mix of 1 cup of cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 1/2  a teaspoon of red pepper flake, is a great substitute. I let that chillax in the fridge overnight, as well. The next day, I rough chopped an onion, two celery ribs, a few carrots and mince some garlic, and then put them all into a slow cooker. On top of the mirepoix (ooh fancy cookin' word) I added the meat. From, this point, it's dump and go—I poured over the meat, a can of diced tomatoes—drained, the barbecue sauce mixture, 1 cup of chicken broth or stock, 1/2 a cup of kernel corn, 1/2 a cup of lima beans and a little salt and pepper. Then you set the cooker to low and walk away.  Eight hours later, the veggies have cooked down, there's a flavorful broth, and the meat literally falls apart—There you have it Brunswick stew.

There is one last ingredient I like to add before turning on the cooker.  Hmm, I wonder what that—beer, it's beer. I like to add beer—a full cup with the other "wet" stuff. What beer to add, is the question? It just so happens that my folks were up visiting this past week. Up from where, you ask? Up from Conway, South Carolina. Dear old Dad, was kind enough to bring up a few bottles of Pig Tail Ale. I've mentioned Pig Tail back in July, you can read about that adventure, here.

Just as Brunswick stew is a classic dish of the American south,  the company for whom Pig Tail Ale is brewed, is a southern legend in it's own right—I'm talking about the grocery store chain Piggly Wiggly . For nearly 100 years, Piggly Wiggly's have been supplying meat and produce across the south land. It's where Hoke was tryin' ta' drive Miss Daisy—Piggly Wigglys are the carrots to Dixie's peas. It just so happens that a few months back the grocery chain partnered with Thomas Creek Brewery, in Greenville South Carolina, to develop a private label line of beers. Thomas Creek took the challenge and came up with two flavors, packaged under the brand Pig Swig—Pig Tail Ale, an Amber Ale, and Pig Pen Pilsner. Starting in May of this year, Pig Swig's brews became available at 100 Piggly Wiggly locations across South Carolina and coastal Georgia.

The beer itself is great. I haven't tried the Pilsner, but I have had the Amber. It's copper-red, with a thick lacing head, and smells of rich caramel, and fresh toasted bread with a nice hit of citrusy, American hops. It's full-bodied and malty—sweet, with a bready-cereal flavor. It has a nice, mellow, bitterness, with a slightly herbaceous hoppiness. It's a good go to Amber Ale—it also is perfect in or with the Brunswick stew. Its sweet maltiness works really well with the brown sugar in the barbecue sauce and rub, and because its bitterness is subdued, the hops don't overpower the dish—as sometimes happens when using a style like IPA during extended cooking. The stew isn't "barbecue" flavored, but it does have some subtle, sweet and spicy characteristics of barbecue, and the Pig Tail helps to round out some of the spice, with a smooth malty note in the background.

If any one recipe was made to have beer in it, it's definitely Brunswick stew—and if any one person was meant to have beer and Brunswick stew in them, it's definitely me.                                                

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