Here's How the Food in Your Winter Stew Grows

01/28/2021

It chilly and snowy, and you've been outside all day working. You're cold and hungry, but once you get back indoors, you're hit with the welcoming scent of a hearty winter stew.

Stews aren't just popular because they're the best warm-up meal—they also spotlight the most common ingredients available during the winter months. We're going to take a look at a few common winter stew ingredients and highlight how they get from the farm to your table.

Onions and Leeks

There's a reason onions and leeks are often found in winter stews. These vegetables thrive in cold weather.

Onions

Depending on the location, winter onions can go into the ground as late as December; they need to be planted at least three weeks before the ground is fully frozen so the roots can mature. However, farmers will typically ensure they are set by late fall as they take between two to three months to fully grow. What is important, especially for winter planting, is that the onions get full sun exposure.

Once planted, farmers in colder climates will cover the seeds with a row cover, straw or mulch layer. These layers help protect the onions from getting damaged. As the onions grow, green shoots will appear above the mulch layer. In chillier climates, farmers may continue covering the stalks with more mulch or straw.

Onions are ready for harvest when the green stalks at the top of the onion start to yellow and droop. When it's time to harvest, the onions are dug out of the ground and dried out—a process called curing—for a few weeks. From there, onions are stored in cool rooms, between 40 and 50 degrees, and, depending on the variety, can last for a few months.

Leeks

As with onions, leeks are planted in rows and require lots of sunlight. They take anywhere from two to four months to grow, depending on the variety. Many farmers will also cover the planted seeds with straw or mulch. As the leeks grow, the green shoots will appear. With leeks, the bottom of the plant is edible, so it's critical that those few inches are kept covered during cooler months. As the stalk grows, farmers will continue to pile up mulch and straw over the bottom six to eight inches of the plant or mound the soil up around them for an added level of protection.

Unlike onions, leeks don't last nearly as long in cool storage—so they are often harvested closer to when consumers are likely to eat them.

Beef

Now that you've got some fresh leeks and onions for your stew, how about a bit of protein?

You've probably browsed the meat aisle of your grocery store and come across stew beef. Grab a pound or two of it, sear it up and drop it in your stew to cook for a few hours.

Most stew beef comes from the tougher parts of the cow, such as the shoulder (often called chuck). Since a cow's shoulders have to support all that weight, it makes sense that this beef doesn't melt in your mouth like a pricey piece of tenderloin. It's tougher and has a lot of fat. But, when you cook chuck for a few hours, the collagen in the meat melts away, giving your stew lots of flavor and making the meat nice and tender.

Depending on your budget and how much time you want to spend slow cooking your meat, you can also opt for bone-in short ribs or oxtail.

Feeling hungry? We don't blame you! Next time you're looking for something to warm you inside and out, whip yourself up a steaming pot of winter stew.