Unbeknownst to me until recently, Kentucky Burgoo or simply, “Burgoo”, is a spicy stew that is similar to Irish or Mulligan Stew and especially Bruinswick Stew. Burgoo is a communal dish that is usually served during a social event in both the American South and the Midwest. However, it is believe that the dish first made its American appearance in the state of Kentucky.
It is believed by many that Burgoo first originated in Europe – specifically France and Belgium. The name “burgoo” came from a mispronunciation of the French word “burgout”, which is a kind of gruel; or perhaps it came from “ragout, which is a spicy vegetable/meat stew. I suspect that a ragout is more similar to the description of Kentucky Burgoo. It is also believed that a man named Colonel Gus Jaubart introduced the dish to the citizens of Kentucky around 1810, eight years after it became a state. Jaubart’s Burgoo was a version of a stew – possibly a ragout – that was fed to French sailors at sea.
However, the late Kentucky historian, Thomas D. Clark believed that Burgoo may have originated in the Appalachian region of late 18th century or early 19th century Virginia, where Brunswick Stew was popular. According to Clark, hunters would count their day’s kill and cook it in a stew or soup with vegetables and highly seasoned spices. There are some who believe that Clark may have been referring to what was known as an “Appalachian Hunter’s Stew” or the “Daniel Boone Stew”.
Below is a recipe for Kentucky Burgoo from the Simplyrecipe.com website:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3-4 pounds pork shoulder or country ribs, cut into large pieces (3 to 4 inches wide)
2-3 pounds chuck roast, stew meat, or other inexpensive cut of beef, cut into large pieces (3 to 4 inches wide)
3-5 chicken legs or thighs (bone-in)
1 green pepper, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 quart chicken stock or broth
1 quart beef stock or broth
1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
2 large potatoes (we used russets)
1 bag of frozen corn (about a pound)
1 bag of frozen lima beans (about 14 ounces)
Salt and pepper
4-8 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco or other hot sauce on the side
Heat vegetable oil on medium-high heat in a large soup pot (at least 8 quart size). Salt the meats well on all sides. When the oil is shimmering hot, working in batches brown all the meats. Do not crowd the pan or the meat will steam and not brown well. Do not move the meat while browning a side. Let the meat pieces get well seared. Remove the browned meats to a bowl.
Add the onions, carrots, celery and green pepper to the pot and brown them. If necessary, add a little more oil to the pot. After a few minutes of cooking, sprinkle salt over the vegetables.
When the vegetables are well browned, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more, until fragrant. Add back the meats, and the chicken and beef broths and the tomatoes, stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, cover, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 2 hours.
Uncover and remove the meat pieces. Strip the chicken off the bone and discard skin if you want. Break the larger pieces of meat into smaller, more manageable pieces. The reason you did not do this at first is because the meats stay juicier when they cook in larger pieces. Return all the meat pieces to the pot and bring it up to a strong simmer.
Peel and cut the potatoes into chunks about the same size as the meat pieces (if using new potatoes, you can skip the peeling, but russets you’ll want to peel). Add them to the stew and cook them until they are done, about 45 minutes. When the potatoes are done, add the Worcestershire sauce, mix well and taste for salt. Add more Worcestershire sauce to taste if needed.
Add the corn and lima beans. Mix well and cook for at least 10 minutes, or longer if you would like. Here is the point where you decide whether you want a burgoo that’s been hammered into a thick mass or a stew with bright colors in it. It is your call.
To serve, taste one more time for salt, and add either Worcestershire or salt if you want. Serve with crusty bread or cornbread and a bottle of hot sauce on the side.