Who says only Kentuckians can make burgoo?
by Alan Reed
Jul 04, 2007 | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I feel like this column may be a bit controversial this week, as I am taking on “The National Dish of Western Kentucky.” No doubt there are several secret family recipes for burgoo that have been passed down through the generations, and hundreds of readers who would have made it better, though for my first effort, I am proud of what I accomplished.

To make it the right way, I researched several recipes, only to find little in the way of common denominators. John Bryant did not give away his famous recipe, though offered a few tips. My editor Vyron Mitchell said that the best burgoo is sort of like Mulligan stew and has “some of everything.” He agreed with Becky Bogus in that good burgoo is cooked for a long time. Becky said that her father began cooking early in the morning, while Vyron said that cooking overnight would not be out of line. Unfortunately I did not think that “cooking burgoo” qualified as a good reason to get out of work for a day. I started in the late afternoon.

I tasted several local burgoos, and could not say which was better- not for fear of hurting feelings, but because they are all great. John Bryant told me to begin with the best ingredients possible, so that’s just what I did.

To season the pot, I started off with the usual mirepoix which adds just the right amount of savory flavor to anything that takes a good long while to stew. With help from Matt Martini, we finely diced two ribs of celery, one large, sweet onion and an average sized carrot and sautéed them in a tablespoon of olive oil until tender. Take up the mirepoix vegetables and set them aside.

I could not find the definitive selection of meats to add to burgoo, so I looked around a supermarket to select a few that would braise well. Most burgoo recipes I read featured beef, pork or chicken, and I had the feeling that any inexpensive meat or even left-overs could do the job. I selected about a pound of round steak and an equal amount of boneless porn chops. The round steak is a fairly lean cut, but I trimmed the fat from the edges of the pork. Once trimmed, I cut both types of meat into three-quarter inch cubes and browned the outside in my pot with two tablespoons of oil. Once brown, I added a half-cup of red wine and the mirepoix vegetables to braise for at least two hours. Add more wine, water or some chicken broth if the pot begins to dry out. For seasoning, use about a half teaspoon of both salt and pepper and a bay leaf. Simmer the meat on low heat with the lid on the pot to trap moisture. For flavorful meat, I added just a pinch of garam masala to the pot, a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce and a few dashes of hot sauce. The garam masala can overwhelm flavor, so no need to add much, just a hint.

As the meat cooks until it is ready to fall apart, I added two cups of chicken broth, a cup of water, and a 10 ounce can of tomato puree for a nice tomato base. Some recipes called for a couple of tablespoons of apple cider or white vinegar. Unfortunately, my vinegar bottle ran dry, so I had none to use. I do not think the flavor suffered for the lack of vinegar. To spice the pot, I added maybe 12 drops of hot sauce, and a tablespoon of parsley. Salt and pepper should be added to taste, though I would say at least another half teaspoon of each and maybe two teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce.

One thing every recipe agreed upon is that burgoo should be thick and hearty. I met this challenge by adding several vegetables. At the store, I bought a bag of frozen mixed vegetables that featured corn, carrots, peas and green beans. It seemed like a good assortment of vegetables for the pot. I added a half pound of the mixed vegetables, half of a can of lima beans and another half can of purple-hulled peas. Three small, quartered Roma tomatoes gave the burgoo some color and flavor. I recalled several burgoos I’ve enjoyed in the past featured a bit more corn, so I combined another quarter-cup of frozen corn. Again cover the pot and simmer for another hour, at least.

Potatoes should be added during maybe the last half hour to 45 minutes of cooking because they overcook easily and thicken stews and soups quickly. I asked Matt to dice one large baking potato into one centimeter cubes and added them to the pot, skin and all. Simmer until the potatoes are tender. At that point, the burgoo is ready to serve. Remember to taste as you cook, and add salt, pepper and hot sauce to satisfy your palette. For a barbecue flavor, I added a heaping tablespoon of commercial barbecue sauce when the potatoes went into the pot. Any more would have been too much, and less probably would have been lost. A single tablespoon was just right to evoke a grill flavor.

Matt had never heard of burgoo, while Hawkins, being from Madisonville had tried several throughout the region. If he deemed my burgoo edible, then I knew I hadn’t embarrassed myself. He ended up eating three bowls. Hawkins’ sister Elsbeth also seemed to enjoy her meal after spending the week as a councilor at a nearby summer camp. I am not sure how many bowls she and Matt consumed, but I feel comfortable saying “more than one.” Matt is about to depart from The Cadiz Record, and will be missed as a friend and colleague. If this was his last dinner with us, then I would say that a good time was had by all. Good eating.
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