“No, no, no, that’s all wrong,” exclaimed a local at a Kentucky Derby party I attended in Louisville when I began telling how I make burgoo and failed to mention pork and veal shank, chopped cabbage, okra, and a slew of seasonings. Of course, Kentuckians are as sensitive about their burgoo as Virginians are about their Brunswick stew and Louisianians their jambalaya. It’s said that more than one political election has been lost in Kentucky because a candidate served some corrupt version of this sacred stew at a rally. Nobody yet knows the derivation of the stew’s name—a mispronunciation of barbecue or bird stew?—but the word appeared in print as early as 1750, and, ever since, burgoo has been Kentucky’s unofficial state dish, prepared at times for literally thousands of people. I do have a so-called authentic recipe, once printed in the Louisville Courier-Journal, but being a Carolina Tarheel, I’ll stick with this same burgoo I’ve been stewing up for a mere eight to ten guests for at least three decades. (If I find some beautiful fresh okra, I’ll also throw that in the pot.)
In a large, heavy pot, combine the chicken, beef shank, lamb, chile pepper, salt and pepper, and water and bring to a boil, skimming any foam from the top. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer till the meats are almost tender, 2 to 2½ hours. With a slotted spoon, transfer the meats to a cutting board and discard the pepper. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 1 hour longer, adding a little more water if the liquid looks too thick.
Remove and discard the skin and bones from the chicken and cut the meat into bite-size pieces. Remove the beef from the bone, discard the bone, and cut the meat into bite-size pieces. Cut the lamb into bite-size pieces. Return all the meats to the pot and stir well. Return the stew to a simmer, cover, and cook till the meats are very tender, 30 to 45 minutes.
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