Stirring the Pot
Chefs ladle out globally influenced stews for winter & beyond
As cold weather blankets much of the country, chefs are adding warm, hearty stews to their menus for diners looking to shake off the chill. Naturally, American classics like beef stew will always be in demand, but many restaurateurs are finding success with stews that have a global influence, from Europe to Asia and beyond.
In her recipes, Johanna Hellrigl, executive chef of Doi Moi in Washington, D.C., wants to emphasize the distinctions between the regional cuisines of Southeast Asia. An avid traveler who has cooked with local chefs around the world, Hellrigl helped expand the restaurant’s Vietnamese and Thai roots to include Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Sri Lanka. Her khao soi, for example, reflects both her painstaking research and ability to adapt.
“With khao soi, you’ve got the Burmese version and the Thai version, and I learned how to make it in one country and then the other,” she explains. “I realized that I wanted a more elevated experience, using the highest quality proteins and vegetables that I can find and still captivate the audience.”
The drama comes in the form of a bone-in Rohan duck leg that’s been braised for hours in khao soi sauce instead of the more common chicken, pork or beef.
“It reminds me of when I was pulling out a chicken bone in Burma for my khao soi, but there’s more depth and flavor and it’s more tender and braised, so there’s an experience to it that sets it apart,” Hellrigl explains.
The chef also makes a bakso soup that has roots in Indonesia and East Timor, but her braised short rib jungle curry remains one of her favorite dishes on the menu. While most curries are made with coconut milk, this dry curry hails from the heavily jungled area of northern Thailand around Chiang Mai, where palm trees are scarce.
“Short rib is not something you’d normally find in a jungle curry, it’s usually pork or catfish or chicken, but with the beautiful flavors of that dry curry and Thai eggplant I wanted something rich without the fat of a coconut,” she explains.
Served in a homemade beef pho broth flavored with licorice root and star anise, it’s plated with sliced, de-seeded Thai eggplant, curry paste, Thai basil and fish sauce. Diners are advised to keep their water glasses close.
“It’s not for the faint of heart because it’s really spicy, but it’s a warming spice rather than an in-your-face, fresh chili spice,” Hellrigl says. “Anybody who’s willing to adventure usually gets it.”
At Café Marie-Jeanne in Chicago, chef Mike Simmons uses French techniques on locally produced, seasonal produce for stews throughout the winter months. In addition to a variety of “market-based, vegetable-focused” soups such as vegetarian white bean escarole, he offers an elegantly unique take on French rabbit stew.
“We call it barbecued rabbit because the rabbit’s smoked and grilled and it’s tender and spiced in an American barbecue way, but it’s served with a light, brothy stew of morels, radishes, turnips, turnip greens, chamomile and mustard seed,” Simmons explains.
“It eats like a stew, but it has this smoked, bone-in rabbit that comes with the broth,” he continues. “It’s a way to prepare vegetables that’s bright, fresh, satisfying, flavorful and nuanced without just having butter-glazed vegetables.”