The Hands-Off Route to Hearty Stew (Sans Slow Cooker!)

October 11, 2017

It’s safe to say that slow cookers and instant pots are having a moment. From the abundance of cookbooks to the mind-boggling array of models on the market, the beloved appliances are quickly becoming household staples.

But using special equipment to cook up hearty stews and fall-off-the-bone braises with little to no supervision is hardly new. In Turkey, the OG slow cooker was the a clay dish or pot called a güveç, says food writer Robyn Eckhardt in her first book, Istanbul and Beyond: Exploring the Diverse Cuisines of Turkey.

“In much of eastern Turkey cooks carry their güveç to the neighborhood bread bakery to cook in the wood-fired stone oven,” she says. “It's truly hands-off—place a few ingredients in the pot and put it in the oven, uncovered, for several hours.”

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The extreme oven heat reduces the liquid and tenderizes the meat over several hours. Toward the end of the cook time, the sauce evaporates, revealing browned meat and vegetables. The resulting stew (also called güveç) is a dish with complex, layered flavors.

Eckhardt translates the Turkish recipe for homes without access to bakery ovens by cooking the stew at 425° F. “This is a dish to make when you have a few hours at home but don't want to spend them in the kitchen,” she writes.

Cut me with a fork because I'm that tender. Photo by Rocky Luten

First, combine and bring the ingredients to a boil over high heat, either in a Dutch oven or baking dish. If you don't have a vessel you're comfortable with heating over a range, simply boil in a separate pot, then pour in an oven-safe baking dish. After the mixture comes to a boil, place the dish, uncovered, into your oven. After about 3 and 1/ 2 hours, the liquid should reduce by half or two-thirds, allowing the meat and vegetables to brown in the last 30 minutes. “This tastes better when made ahead,” Eckhardt says. Let the soup cool in the dish before refrigerating or freezing, then reheat on the stovetop to serve.

What's your favorite hands-off recipe? Does it involve a slow cooker?

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.


BerryBaby October 13, 2017
Slow cooker broke over a year ago. Started using Dutch oven and love it! Takes only 1-2 hours for excellent results. Slow cooker is replaced with Dutch oven. BB
Traveler October 15, 2017
I seldom use the slow cooker. Food tastes so much better in Dutch oven cooked low and slow.