While a great stew is certainly wonderful especially on a cold winter’s night, it could be even better. Being brought up as a young man in Italy has had its effect. As I learned to cook at an early age, I was fascinated at how great everything tasted in Rome. One of the distinct differences I noticed was many dishes were combined at some stage in their preparation rather than being all cooked together. This was especially true of minestrone and stews. The ingredients did not all taste the same and each of them seemed fresher and al dente. So one would see a long braising of ox tail cooked slow and low until flawlessly tender then potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, each prepared separately, combined which was nothing short of amazing. The flavors were not homogeneous but rather more interesting. Wow a stew without soggy watery potatoes – how’d that happen.
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One of my mother’s boy friends was a rugged tall man over six feet, a doctor by profession, and one fabulous cook. He commanded the kitchen like the surgeon he was. When he made fish stew for us, every stage was executed in order, and with a stopwatch. The marinara sauce was made first, then a fish stock from the tailings and bones. The clams, mussels, squid, fish of six kinds, shrimp, and lobster each cooked at a different rate. While I was only 12 years old at that time, I remember the great Cacciucco (Ligurian Fish Stew) as if it was yesterday. The lesson certainly underlined the precept that when all the ingredients are cooked to perfection, the result would be perfection.
Speed forward another 55 years, time after time I noted in great restaurants or in my own kitchen, the method appears to the advantage of many fine preparations from soup, beans, salads, and even desserts.