How To Make a Better Stew

Every cooking technique has secrets for success. Here are some basics for stew:

* Invest in a large, heavy casserole for stews, about 6-quart capacity, with a tight-fitting lid. It's an expensive, but worthwhile investment; it doubles as a cooking vessel and a serving dish. Six quarts may seem large too, but with today's focus on health you'll be using far more vegetables in stews, which take a good deal of space. And regardless of your family size, you might as well cook enough stew for six. It takes little additional effort, and any leftover stew can be frozen.

* Use a non-stick skillet for sauteing the necessary vegetables and browning the meat, to omit almost all fat in preparing a stew. The fat itself is rarely a flavor factor, once these complex ingredients are simmered together. Just be sure to transfer all the juices and little bits of cooked foods from the skillet to the casserole.

* Don't worry about the amount of garlic and onion in a stew. They always cook up sweet and mild.

* Home-cooked stocks are preferable in stews, but unrealistic. Low-sodium canned broths are an acceptable substitute. Hold the salt until the stew is cooked; the amount needed will depend on the salt content of the broth.

* Bring the contents of the stew to a boil on the stove top to accelerate the cooking in the oven.

* Freeze stews in portions to suit your own needs. Plastic zippered freezer bags are ideal; they take little space in the freezer and are easy to identify. Always double-bag them to prevent any off-freezer flavor. Be sure to label the date and contents; after a month, memory fades.

* Let stews come to room temperature before reheating them. Reheat, covered, in 350-degree oven or in a microwaveable dish in the microwave oven until hot. Add water when stews thicken too much when reheated; broth is not necessary once they've been fine-tuned as far as seasonings.

* Garnish stews with minced parsley and/or snipped chives for a fresh presentation.

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