The Stew of Ice & Fire

The Stew of Ice & Fire

'May the mountains rise against you, may the forest block your path. May your axes chip and shatter, and know it is my wrath.'

I've always found lots of inspiration for what I do in music. When you get down to it, music and food are both incredibly similar art forms. Both are intensely personal; being able to create something that means something to you, obsessing until it's just right, then ultimately giving it away to the masses to judge as they will.

A band that always proves to be huge source of creative stimulation for me is The Sword, out of Austin, Texas. While the metal community is known for arguing over genre classifications and what is or isn't “metal”, The Sword carves out a niche of it's own. Serving as a reminder of the earliest years of metal, The Sword brings bass-heavy, neo-psychadelics while creating vast fantasy landscapes. Much in the same way that Led Zeppelin drew from J.R.R. Tolkien (In the darkest depths of Mordor...), The Sword takes many influences from George R.R. Martin, author of the Song of Ice & Fire series, better known as Game of Thrones.

In the northernmost reaches of Westeros lies the Kingdom of the North, ruled by House Stark at Winterfell. Isolated from the rest of the population, Winterfell seems to rejoice in their solitude. They prepare for the coming winter, always warning of it's approach. They share a border with the 'Free Folk' to the north. Their leader: noble, ethical, and long beloved by the citizens, leaves his people for the capital to improve the defunct system of government, and is ultimately killed by the same government he sought to help.

Sounds a bit like Vermont, no? Admittedly, Bernie's head is well-secured to his shoulders, but the comparison is striking nonetheless. The similarities don't end there though. In Stowe, we had our own Winterfell, a now-defunct clothing and outdoor gear store. We even had our own Stark who fought in the rebellion: Brigadier General John Stark led the continental army to victory against the British in the Battle of Bennington in 1777. While Stark was a New Hampshire native and the battle itself was fought in Hoosick, New York, Vermont still claims the namesake, celebrating Bennington Battle day on August 16th each year.

The dead of winter has now fully set in here in the Green Mountain State, and I wanted to create a dish with all of these influences in mind; the music, the fantasy, the season, and of course, Vermont itself.

Baeckeoffe is a traditional casserole dish of the Alsatian region in France: Beef, Lamb and pork, marinated with vegetables, herbs, wine and juniper. Traditionally, it would be assembled at home and dropped off at the local baker to cook while on the way to do laundry, earning it the moniker “laundry day stew”. After reading more about the dish, it seemed much like what may have been served during Robert Baratheon's visit to Ned at Winterfell: rich and meaty, fresh spices (a rarity in the far reaches of the North), and booze. A meal fit for a king! Below is my interpretation of the dish, bubbling cauldron and all.

 

·      Yellow Onion, medium, finely chopped, 2 each

·      Leeks, finely chopped (white and pale green parts only), 2 each

·      Carrot, large, finely chopped, 1 each

·      Garlic, minced, 4 cloves

·      Bay Leaf, 2 each

·      Juniper Berries, 1 teaspoon

·      Thyme, fresh, picked, 1½ tablespoons

·      Stout or Porter Beer, 4-5 cups (I like Switchback's Dooley's Belated Porter)

·      Beef Chuck Roast, cut to 1¼” chunks, 1 pound

·      Pork Shoulder, cut to 1¼” chunks, 1 pound

·      Lamb Shoulder, cut to 1¼” chunks, 1 pound

·      Kosher Salt and Black Pepper, as needed

·      Vegetable Oil, as needed

·      Russet Potatoes, 4 pounds

In a large bowl, mix together the onions, leeks, carrot, garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries, thyme, beer, beef, pork, lamb, 1½  teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours.

Using a mandoline, slice potatoes thinly* and season well with salt and pepper.  Cover the bottom ofa heavy-bottomed pot with half of them. Strain the solids and meat from the marinade, reserving both separately. Spread the meats and vegetables on top of the potatoes and then top with the remaining potatoes. Carefully pour the reserved marinade over the potatoes. If the liquid does not cover the top of the potatoes, add more beer until they are just covered.

Preheat oven to 350F. Bring your pot to a simmer over medium-high heat. Once simmering, cover and transfer to oven. Bake at 350F until meat is tender, about 3-4 hours. Serve hot, with crusty bread and beer.

For anyone interested in cooking over an open fire, this guide will give an in-depth primer and everything you need to know. Once you get the hang of it, it's seriously rewarding.

*Don't wash the potatoes after slicing, the starch will help to thicken the broth while cooking.

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