Put Prunes in Your Stew

It is just a straight forward beef stew: browned beef, some onions and tomatoes, a bay leaf, salt and pepper, some broth or stock, red wine, a tiny bit of vinegar, and then you add a cup of prunes to simmer along with the meat. The recipe is an old one from Mark Bittman years and years ago in the New York Times. It is good winter fare, and the prunes reminded me of another old favorite, Chicken Marbella which apparently everyone around my age thought was very trendy about thirty years ago. It has prunes in it, too, along with capers, olives, and the kitchen sink.

I’ll tell you, though, you’ll never taste such good prunes as these cooked with meat, herbs and spices, and wine. I found myself poking around to capture prunes and let my friend eat the beef. I don’t suppose the prunes do much for the meat, but they make the whole dish unctuous and delicious.

I used one one-pound package of stewing beef and one of venison. You could certainly use moose, chicken, lamb, or pork. Because it cooks for a long time, the meat becomes fork tender, and onions and tomatoes melt away, and prunes become creamy. You can serve it on couscous, on tiny pasta like orzo, or rice. It is good to have a small starch because the sauce that forms is so delicious that you’ll want to soak up every little bit of it and the little grains work like a sponge to do that.

The recipe that follows is a bit of a variation from Bittman’s original; feel free to tinker with the seasonings, and do allow enough time to let the meat cook until tender. It definitely is better the second day so would be a good bet for a cook ahead project to rewarm as needed.

Two of us enjoyed this for three meals and I put a couple servings away in the freezer.

Looking for…Chocolate sauce recipe. I would like to have a chocolate sauce recipe that yields at least somewhat pourable sauce even when cold. I’ve been using a sauce recipe now for years that is delicious but firms up when cold, and always needs to be zapped in the microwave or have its jar plunked into hot water for a few minutes before it will dribble over ice cream. Any body have a good one for me?

Meat Stew with Prunes
Serves: 6-8
  • Olive or vegetable oil
  • 2 pounds lean meat, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4-5 canned or fresh plum tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika, more to taste
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 ½ cups pitted prunes
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  1. Put just enough to cover the bottom of a deep skillet or cook pot that can be covered.
  2. Heat oil until it shimmers over medium-high heat.
  3. Add the stew meat without crowding and brown well, turning to brown all sides. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Remove meat from the skillet and set aside.
  5. Put the onion, garlic and tomatoes in the skillet and when they have cooked for about five minutes, add paprika, cinnamon, and bay leaf.
  6. Return stew meat to pan, add stock and wine. Turn up the heat and when it begins to boil, reduce the heat, cover the skillet and simmer for about half an hour, adding a little more stock or water if it wastes away.
  7. Next add the prunes and stir them so they are covered. Cook covered for another half hour, or until the meat is tender, adding water or stock, if needed. Add vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  8. Let sit before serving, remove the bay leaf, and rewarm as needed before serving.
  9. Serve with couscous, rice, or orzo.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.