Lesson 4: How to stew

Unrelated to delicate art of the seethe is the art of the stew. Every good Cookman needs to learn how to stew properly, or else they'll never be granted the reward of a sulk. 

Appearances

Stews rest entirely in the appearance of cooking, when in fact, a lot of the cooking time is given over to relaxing while it does most of the work for you. So you must put on a suitable show for your guests to maintain the illusion and there are two areas of attack.

Utensils

Most haute cuisine cookery courses (or loquacious old men who have never cooked a day in their life) will wax lyrical about the value of a good sturdy pot, whether it's a stew pot, a stock pot, or a reference to drugs. They will inevitably tell you that a good pot should never be washed, not once, since its creation, and that the best pots date back to the early days of the Empire. Apparently this is so that you can smell every single meal that has ever been cooked in it, that all the different stews, soups, stocks, and broths that have coated the walls of your pot have given it a unique character, that can only improve with time.

Well, you'll be delighted to hear that it is not necessary to have a centuries old unwashed pot to hand in order to make a stew. In fact, the College of Cookmanship stresses, for the sake of our insurance premiums, that you absolutely do not use a filth-encrusted ancient pot to cook your food. 

What is necessary is that you seem to have one such pot.

 And here it is, in all its mundanity.

And here it is, in all its mundanity.

Before getting started with any of the vegetables for your stew, ensure that you are seen to prepare your pot properly. Technique demands that you raise it by both handles, bringing it up to about an inch below your nose, as you take a large and dramatic whiff. For added effect, keep your eyes closed, you will appear to savour the aroma far more this way. Just as you would with a wine, describe the smells of history that emanate from the pot, paying no mind to the fact that they are wholly fictitious.

If someone else requests the pot for a smell of their own, don't be worried about the sterility of the pot, hand it over as if you were giving them the best of treasures that Long John could lust for. More than likely, they will agree that they can smell everything you described.

Should they make the bold claim that they can't smell anything (known in some circles as The Truth but here we call it An Inconvenience), simply scold them for their unrefined olfactory equipment. Should they point out that your pot clearly dates back to 2010 at the earliest, and couldn't possibly be victorian given the plastics used in the handles, brush it off as saying that you had it taken and refurbished, making reference to your fabulous potman who can rejuvenate any cooking utensil. 'I can't tell you where he is though, he only takes select customers. He doesn't run a common pots and pans emporium!' Any guest will be suitably quelled with enough confidence in the assertion of your potperson.

Exercise: in order to make your claims of a potperson more believable, invent a back story for them. Write it down on a piece of paper, expanding it as you see fit, possibly into a full length novel. On a related note, please buy my new book 'Maurice, mop hands, and me: confessions of a potman'.

Cooking

Your guests must believe that you are busy making their dinner for the entire duration of the stew's cooking phase. The reality is that, after an initial flurry of chopping, perhaps some frying, a stew mostly consists of simmering, one of the least labour-intensive forms of meal creation. 

To get round this, your guests must see you at both the beginning, and the end of the of cooking process. If they have seen you sniff your pot, then they can witness you arranging the mountain of vegetables and begin the peeling and chopping. 

Tip: always get out every last vegetable you have, even if you only intend to use one onion. Your guests will only remember the enormity of your vegetable preparation and not which vegetables were actually involved.

If you do insist on socialising with your guests during the cooking phase (traditional Cookmanship dictates that you remain in the kitchen the entire four to eight hours that a stew cooks in) then leave the room and conversation multiple times to 'check the seasoning'. For maximum impact, leave the room mid-sentence, or if you are playing a game, on your turn. More specifically, on your turn, before you have made your move, but after you have had ample 'thinking time'. You will then get the chance, on your return, to have another session of planning your move and no one will have noticed all the extra time you allowed yourself to take your turn in. It would be rude for them to imply the host and cook of bad game etiquette, after all.

At the end of the cooking phase, you can be seen to be attending to the stew, again ensuring the exact right amount of seasoning is in there, and even adding ingredients that you couldn't add earlier in the process. A delicate leaf such as spinach, for example, is excellent for this. If anyone asks if it's really necessary to save the spinach for the end (should your breaking up of the conversation appearing rude for some reason), bring up your haughtiness levels to stretching point and say, 'Well, if you wanted overcooked green sludge in it, no.' If they question the necessity of the spinach at all, reveal that the stew is called 'Spinach Stew' and it wouldn't do to leave out the key ingredient.

For this reason, never reveal the name of your dish until it is nearly cooked. Names can be changed to suit the play. Just refer to it as 'The Stew' until you need to give it such a quantifier. 


And there you have a potentially eight hour Cookman experience that will leave your guests well in your debt, while you have managed to do little more than they did relaxing in the living room with the port. They don't need to know about the auxiliary bottle in the kitchen, do they?