When winter’s icy breath sends shivers down my spine, I seek out the soothing embrace of stew.
When the bowl arrives, I lower my head to breathe its steam like an asthmatic taking vaporizer treatments. Successful stews marry flavor and tenderness with a pinch of nostalgia, satisfying out of all proportion to their nutritional value.
They remind me of all the aunts and grandmas and grandpas who have invited kids to pull up a chair and taste a little love. Every finished cauldron is tangible evidence that someone started thinking about how to feed you, before you were even hungry.
Here are eight outstanding stews from across Western New York.
Poulet Grand-mere ($26) from Coco
888 Main St., 885-1885
The name means “Grandma’s chicken” but it actually the sister of owner Maura Crawford who made this robust chicken braise, for her birthday. It still has tender Plato Dale chicken and brandy-enriched sauce, fingerling potatoes, bacon nuggets called lardons in France, and whole cloves of garlic, but it’s been prettied up by Chef Conor Casey for restaurant presentation.
Chicken and biscuit ($16.99, with salad or soup) from Village Inn
1488 Ferry Road, Grand Island, 773-5030
Owner Michael Carr starts with real chicken, not chicken “base,” simmered until the meat drips from the bones. The stock, thickened with butter-based roux, starts with a mirepoix of onions, celery, and carrots, then it’s finished with reserved chicken and peas. The stew is ladled over a big housemade buttermilk biscuit that’s tender but substantial enough to stand as a solid foundation.
Pork, dill and bamboo ($13, with rice) from Kaydara Noodle Bar
777 Main St., 768-0038
Chef Vathanathavone Inthalasy was trying to recreate a stew that his Laotian mother made when he struck on the idea of adding dill, used in another Laotian dish. The other main ingredients are pork and fresh bamboo shoots, which look like a rhinoceros horn but when sliced soak up flavors well. This heady, exotic brew includes chiles, garlic, mustard greens, enoki mushrooms and more.
Beef goulash ($8.99) from Balkan Dining
687 Kenmore Ave., 834-0462
Senad Soteli offers a menu of Bosnian specialties including sausages, bread and burek, but the goulash is a childhood favorite that probably has Hungarian roots. It’s beef chuck simmered to fork-tender in one of the pizza ovens with lots of sweet paprika, garlic, onions and tomato sauce with a pinch of cayenne. Pick a partner: rice, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables, or housemade bread.
Bigosz ($12.45, with salad or soup) from Polish Villa II
1085 Harlem Road, Cheektowaga, 822-4908
At Rosanna and Edward Kutas’ place, hunter stew, or bigosz, starts with carrots, celery and onions cooking down in the bot. Cabbage goes in, then roasted pork shoulder, and sauerkraut. Bite-sized chunks of housemade fresh and smoked kielbasa are added, and it’s simmered to completion. It’s served in a housemade rye bread bowl, over mashed potatoes or housemade kluski noodles.
Lamb tagine ($27) from Fiero
408 Evans St., Amherst, 631-4090
After opening with a more eclectic pan-Mediterranean menu, Michael Berger’s restaurant has tacked back towards Italian-American. But he saved the lamb tagine, a customer favorite from its Moroccan cuisine. A lamb shank rubbed with cinnamon, chile and other spices is braised till tender and served with apricot chutney, roasted vegetables and its juices over Israeli couscous.
Coq au vin ($27) from Craving
1472 Hertel Ave., 883-1675
Adam Goetz takes three days to make this French classic. Erba Verde chicken is marinated in red wine and vegetables for two days while trimmings go into brown chicken stock.
Chicken is seared, vegetables sautéed, then all cooked together till tender. The braising liquid is reduced and finished with butter. It’s served with seasonal vegetables, lately Plato Dale celeriac and Arden Farm carrots.
Dwen Jang Jjigae (soybean stew, $11.95) from Woo Chon Korea House
402 Evans St., 626-5980
Myung Kim’s restaurant serves a variety of stews that emerge from the kitchen bubbling furiously in their little black cauldrons. The soybean stew is based on vegetable-anchovy broth with coarse fermented soybean paste, chopped marinated beef short rib, and cubes of tofu. The stews, like other entrees here, come with rice and a half-dozen little assorted side dishes, called banchan.
Email Andrew Galarneau at email@example.com
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