We’re eating sweet and peppery Brunswick stew filled with shredded chicken, smoked ham, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, and butter beans.
There are Brunswick counties in Georgia, North Carolina AND Virginia. Apparently all three of these states like to claim this traditional hunter’s stew as their own. While I have no idea of its actual origin, I would guess that the version I grew up eating was likely the Virginian since I was raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains and my dad’s family comes from the Tidewater region of Virginia – a little over an hour away from Brunswick County.
Here is pretty much all I remember from eating the Brunswick stew that my dad made when I was a wee little child: it had a sweet tomato-y base with shredded meat, corn and butter beans… and it was heavy on the the black pepper. In addition to my memory of the basic ingredients, I recall how much I thoroughly loved the dish. Maybe it was the sweetness and the heartiness or the fact that it was most often served on a cold wintery day, but something about this stew appealed to me as a child and still appeals to me as an adult. My tastebuds may have prefered to use dark meat chicken (or rabbit, really) rather than boneless skinless chicken breasts, and bacon to season rather than lean smoked pork, but my desire to make this a healthy soup won out. The recipe below is not a traditional brunswick stew, but a relatively healthy version whose flavors are remniscent of the stew I remember eating from my childhood. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. (Ooooo and if you can, make it a day in advance because, like all stews, it tastes way better on the second and third day!)
1 tbsp butter
1 yellow onion, peeled & diced
1/2 lb smoked ham steak, cubed
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
6 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp packed brown sugar
1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 14.5oz cans stewed tomatoes
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut in a small dice
1 1/2 cups frozen butter beans or baby lima beans
1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels
Place a large pot over medium heat. Add butter to pot. Once the pot is heated and the butter is melted, added the onion. Sweat the onion over medium heat until translucent, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
Add the ham, chicken breasts, bay leaf, brown sugar, black pepper, kosher salt and Worcestershire to the pot. Raise heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 30 minutes until chicken is just cooked through.
Remove chicken from pot. Let cool until able to handle then shred using either two forks or your hands.
While the chicken is waiting to be shredded, add the stewed tomatoes, cubed potatoes and lima/butter beans to the pot. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking over medium-low, stirring occasionally. Add shredded chicken to the pot.
Cook at a gentle simmer for approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours until potatoes are very tender. Using a potato masher, mash the soup to help assist the potatoes in breaking down and thus thickening the stew.
Add the corn to the stew. Cook another 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Like with all stews and braised dishes - it will taste even better on the second day!