The ingredients in authentic Kentucky burgoo may be off-putting at first but easy substitutions can be made in this rich huntsman’s stew.
With a name of questionable origin, burgoo is a common regional dish among the rural backwoods of Kentucky and the lower Midwestern states. Like many local one-pot meals, every family and household has its own version of their favorite recipe but a few elements are common to all. Specifically, burgoo is a stew that calls for regional small game and an all-day simmer to make the best of tougher, less-than-ideal meats.
Traditionally, at least three different meats are required with a contrast between red meat and poultry. Most any creature has been used including venison, duck, rabbit, lamb, squirrel, muskrat, pheasant or other game birds. Unless one is a local hunter these proteins can be difficult to source, but online resources and specialty markets allow good substitutions without affecting the integrity of the dish.
Chicken and pork are obvious and available choices, making the third selection a heavier, darker flesh such as beef or venison. This particular version uses chicken thighs, pork rib meat and some ground elk found in the frozen foods section, allowing for some contrast without a strong gamey taste. Brisket or turkey are also good choices.
Seasonings are kept to a minimum as the long, slow simmer tenderizes the meats and, with the added stocks, produces a rich, heavy liquid base without added thickening agents. Corn, tomatoes and lima beans are a nod to the regional Native American succotash, and just about any squash, peas or root vegetables can be included.
A small bit of molasses and a splash of Kentucky bourbon lend a tiny sweet finish without making it sugary. Serve with fresh cornbread and Tabasco on the side.
1½ lb game meat (assortment of three ½-lb choices)
1 yellow onion
1 stalk of celery
½ green bell pepper
2 cloves of garlic
14.5-oz can of tomatoes (diced)
2 c chicken stock
2 c beef broth
1 russet potato
2 T Worchestershire sauce
1 T molasses
1 c lima beans
1 c corn kernels
red chile flakes
1 Cut the meat into 1-in. pieces and sauté in the oil until browned. Remove and set aside.
2 Chop the onion, celery, carrot and pepper and sauté in the rendered fat until softened and browned, about 10-15 min.
3 Mince the garlic and add along with dry seasonings; cook for 1 min longer.
4 Return the meat to the soup and add the tomatoes (with liquid) and the stocks. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and gently simmer, covered, for at least 2 hrs.
5 Dice the potato and add along with the Worcestershire sauce and molasses. Cover and continue to simmer another 30 min, or until the potato is cooked through.
6 Add the corn and beans and simmer another 10 min, or until warmed. Finish with a splash of bourbon, and season to taste.