Deliciously ugly

We had beef stew tonight, though the name undersells. I used a Maggie Beer recipe with a more embellished title. The end result was delicious. The combination of red wine, vino cotto, orange zest, kalamata olives, fresh herbs and six hours of slow cooking resulted in a rich, warming end to a wintery Saturday. It was good.

I like stews. They come with memories that are nourishing and associations that sustain. The trouble is, they look even uglier than the name suggests; finding images that sell their appeal is a challenge. It’s a shame really, because a stew is such a good and honest thing. In the age of food stylists, plating and Instagram, the stew is too easily dismissed. The food writer Alan Saunders calls this “the brown goo problem.”

“Stewed dishes cooked a long time are the basis of domestic cuisines in China, the Middle East, North Africa, the poor parts of Europe and in many other places. They often taste very good, these goos, but they don’t usually look very pretty, which is a problem because we expect our food these days to be photogenic. What tends to happen, then, is that the peasant dish gets dolled up; it’s not allowed into polite society until it has put on it’s Sunday best.”

Let’s be honest, anything Maggie Beer does is more than Sunday’s best. Still, even without the dolling up, a stew is a very decent thing. And foundational in so many places. Personally, I’ll take mine anyway it comes.

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