The liquid in which stew is made is often thickened afterwards and gravy is formed. A stew can include many different types of vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, beans, peppers, tomatoes and onions among others. It can be made with meat, poultry, sausages and seafood. The cooking liquid can be water, stock, wine and even beer. Seasonings can be used according to taste. Stew may be thickened with flour or cornstarch. The difference between soups and stews are that stews have less liquid and they are thickened while most soups are not unless they are pureed.
The making of stew comes from prehistoric times. Primitive tribes boiled different kinds of food together as a prelude to mating rituals. Amazonian tribes would use turtle shells as containers in which to boil the turtle meat and other ingredients. Other cultures have used large mollusks in which to boil food. A Roman cookery book Apicius holds recipes for lamb and fish stews. One of the oldest cookbooks was written in French – Le Viandier. It was written by a French chef known as Taillevent. The cookbook contains various ragouts and stews.
Beef bourguignon or boeuf bourguignon is a well-known traditional French recipe. This stew is prepared by braising beef in red wine. The traditional wine used in red Burgundy along with beef broth. The stew is flavored with garlic, onions and mushrooms.
Brunswick stew originated from the southeastern United States. It is usually a tomato based stew. Lima or butter beans can be added ,as well as corn, okra and other vegetables along with one or more types of meat. Most common are chicken, pork and beef.
Chicken paprikash is of Hungarian origin and usually made with chicken, onions and paprika. It is thickened with sour cream or heavy cream.
Feijoada a typical Portuguese dish made with beans, beef and pork. In Brazil it is considered to be the national dish. Usually white beans are used but it is also prepared with red beans. Other vegetables used are tomatoes, carrots and cabbage.
Irish stew is a traditional stew made with lamb or mutton as well as potatoes, carrots, onions and parsley.
Mechado comes from the Philippines. Larded pieces of beef are marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, calamansi juice (which comes from the fruit of a citrus type shrub or small tree), black pepper and bay leaf. It is then browned on all sides and then braised in the marinade with additional soup stock, onion slices and tomato sauce added. When tender the liquid is thickened into a flavorful gravy.
There are many other kinds of stew but a person can also create their own with just a little imagination. One of my creations has been Refrigerator Stew. This one is really fun. The next time you have to clean out your fridge prepare a large pot. Anything that is still edible and needs to be used throw it in there for stew. My creation included cubed ham, marinated mushrooms, chopped onion, grated ginger, chunks of cooked potatoes. Added boiled water just to cover everything and added a beef bouillon cube. Just brought everything to a bubble and put down to simmer until it all was heated through since the ingredients were already cooked. Then added spoonfuls of tomato paste until it thickened. It was strange, usual but delicious and my fridge was clean.