Small Batch Brunswick Stew

I grew up on and spent most of my adult life making ‘Chowning’s Brunswick Stew,’ as written on an index card by my Aunt Gigi. Her version is based on the stew served at Chowning’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. It is simple and straightforward and tastes like most of the Brunswick stews you can get in Virginia, including canned Mrs. Fearnow’s.

Over time, I have dabbled in Brunswick stew recipes that ‘fuss it up’ (I’m intrigued by this one from the NY Times) and have even fussed it up myself – including celery, sautéing the onions, occasionally throwing in a carrot or two. Ultimately, though, I adhere pretty closely to the original because it is the essence of country food, simple and delicious. Plus, it tastes like my childhood.

The only trouble with my aunt’s Brunswick stew recipe and many others is that they make a BOATLOAD of stew. I imagine stewing 2 chickens at a time was important when you had a tavern full of diners or a large family to feed. But the quantities are a major drawback since I rarely serve that many people and I’m also not keen on freezing Brunswick stew (the potatoes get mushy). One fine day, I decided to shrink the recipe to a manageable size. This version has all the lusciousness of a big batch, but only serves six, the perfect amount for a family of four (with leftovers) or a small dinner party.

4 bone-in chicken thighs
4 cups water
½ small onion
1 stalk celery
½ teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs. olive oil, butter, or bacon fat
1 medium onion, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
1 cup chopped celery
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 cup frozen lima beans
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 cup peeled, diced boiling potatoes

Skin the chicken thighs if they are skin-on, and place in a large pot with the half onion, celery stalk, salt, and bay leaf. Cover with 4 cups water (or a little more if necessary to cover), and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer 1 ½ to 2 hours. (You can also cook this overnight in a slow cooker or 45 minutes in an Instant Pot.)

Strain the broth into a large bowl, discard the onion, celery, and bay leaf, and set the chicken aside to cool.

Wipe out the pot, add the oil/butter/bacon fat, then sauté the onion and celery in the pot 3 to 5 minutes, or until just translucent. Add the tomatoes, lima beans, corn, and reserved chicken stock. Shred the chicken meat directly into the pot with your fingers, then season the stew with salt and pepper. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer ½ hour. Add the potatoes, and cook ½ hour more, or until potatoes are tender. Season with more black pepper just before serving.