A stew is made by simmering pieces of meat, fish and/or vegetables slowly in liquid, typically stock and wine flavored with aromatics. Usually thicker and more substantial than a soup, a stew is commonly served as a main course. It is similar to a braise, although stews generally use more liquid and the food is cut into smaller pieces.

Delicious and versatile, these comforting one-pot meals are among the basic dishes found in almost every cuisine, from the meat or seafood stews of France to the clay pots of Asia. A few famous French stews are the daube (which can also be a whole piece of braised beef), the ragout and beef bourguignonne. The meat for stews is often browned to add flavor to the liquid, which gradually thickens as the meat cooks. Some dishes, such as fish stews and blanquette de veau (white veal stew), are made without browning.

Stews are economical as they are generally made with foods that require long cooking to become meltingly tender, such as root vegetables and tougher cuts of meat. They also have the advantage of usually tasting better the day after they are made. Refrigerating a stew overnight allows the flavors of the various ingredients to deepen.

Here you'll find recipes for a variety of hearty stews, from chicken bouillabaisse to a spicy Moroccan lamb stew.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)