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Time to bone up on hearty stews
Fall is soup season
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Jeremy Harris, owner of Harris All Natural Meats and Butcher Shop in Jefferson, shows up a flank of beef at his store in June. Photo courtesy of Jeremy Harris.

The cooks of North Georgia know fall’s not pumpkin spice season — it’s soup season.

It doesn’t get much better than having a home filled with the bubbling scents of a busy kitchen. For Jeremy Harris, this time of year takes him right back to when he was a child.

“I just remember, back as a kid, my mother would put something in the Crock-Pot or the oven and you’d start to smell it outside and you knew dinner was getting close,” said Harris, owner of Harris’ All Natural Meats and Butcher Shop in Jefferson.

From childhood to self-employment as a butcher, this time of year has always been about soups and stews for Harris — and the rest of the area is starting to catch on.

Harris has seen sales of stew meat pick up firsthand in the fall and winter every year he’s been open.

The slow-cook option makes stews not only a hearty, healthy option for fall, but a relatively easy one. There’s little preparation and even less work to do once cooking is underway. And the aroma that comes from the slow cooker as the meat stews for hours makes it all the better.

“During the fall and winter time, people like for their house to smell like food,” Harris said.

Some of the different meats that work well in stew are beef roasts, chuck roasts and sirloin tips.

Stew meats are typically tougher cuts, coming from the hardest-working parts of the animal — especially the shoulder and rump. Other good stew meats like the bottom round and top round, come from the back leg. Cooking these meats for hours breaks down that toughness, making the protein more tender and melting marbled fat into the meat and stew.

And because the meat was tough to begin with and needs that time to break down, it often won’t be overcooked. Harris’ favorite is the tri-tip.

“It’s a really good, marbled piece of meat,” Harris said. “It's overlooked a lot because it’s not readily available; most stores don’t carry it.”

But his shop does. And he said Hall County residents make up a large part of his clientele, even though it’s just more than a 30-minute drive from the square.

And at the heart of a good stew is usually not the meat or the vegetables that make it into the end product — it’s in the bones.

Marrow bones are a growing product for Harris because of the popularity of bone broth.

“It’s actually picked up a good bit for us already,” Harris said. “We sell a lot of that.”

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No matter what kind of soup or stew your making — from classic chicken soup to this hearty mushroom stew made in June 2017 — it’s best to start with a bone broth base. It’s a slower process than using store-bought stock, but worth the extra time.

The most popular source for bone marrow is beef bone since it’s larger, meaning more marrow is extracted when cooked, creating a rich beef flavor. Bone broth can also be made with chicken bones — meaning you should save those bones the next time to buy a rotisserie bird or make a batch of wings — and even fish bones.

Most cooks make bone broth with a simple combination of bones (some choose to roast the bones before boiling, similar to browning a piece of meat to lock in flavor), onions, carrots and celery. The French call the vegetable combination “mirepoix.”

Simmer the bones for practically any length of time — overnight or while you’re at work or at the beach for the weekend (but maybe have someone check on the slow-cooker while you’re gone)  — until the stock is a rich brown. Depending on the size and type, bones can be boiled multiple times before their flavor is exhausted.

“Just like meat tastes different on certain species of animals, the bones are going to taste different also,” Harris said. “I’m not sure why, but we can’t keep it (in stock). As soon as we cut it, if we don’t already have preorders for it, it sells as soon as we put it out.”

Bones aren’t just a fall flavor. With weather cooling down, Harris said a lot of people are getting outside and using their grills or smokers. And as the holidays approach, one of the most popular items become prime rib.

“People are going to buy the prime rib, bone in,” Harris said. “That's a big holiday, seasonal item and it sells really good … The bone adds flavor. No matter what you cook, if you cook it bone in, it does add flavor.”

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