THERE’s nothing that gives me a tingling in my toes more than indulging in a big bowl of comfort food when it’s cold. The icy weather makes my heart yearn for cheesy lasagnes and giant pots of spicy curry.Stews are also on the list and although they’re seen by some as a little old fashioned and “boring”, they are incredibly versatile because you can pretty much stew anything – meat, vegetables, grains, fruits and even fish.You probably have a go-to stew recipe (or know someone who makes a really good one), to get you through those days when you actually just need a good food hug. One of the nice things about them is that you can make a big batch and take leftovers to work the next day. A sure way to get those envious “I-wish-I-had-your- lunch” glances from colleagues.Now before we all rush off to look for stew recipes online, let’s take a moment to discuss what makes a great stew.Main ingredientAs with all cooking, flavour is paramount and if you want to have the best of it in your stews, it’s a good idea to use cheaper cuts of meat like chuck, flank or shin as these carry great flavour which really comes out if they are slow-cooked – allowing the meat to break down into meltingly, tender pieces. If you’re having a veggie stew, you may want to roast them first to increase the natural flavour intensity with the caramelised bits giving the stew that much needed richness and body.SauceMost people cook the meat in stock but nobody enjoys a thin, watery stew. The trick is to let it cook slowly so that the liquid can reduce and thicken in consistency (while also intensifying in flavour). If you don’t have a lot of time, a quick way to thicken the sauce is by coating the meat first in flour before browning it. If you’re using potatoes, the starch in them will also help to thicken.Bulk it upThe addition of peas, beans, whole grains and potatoes all make the stew a bit “fuller” and allow it go a little further if you’re feeding a crowd.Flavour ideasThe world is pretty much your oyster when it comes to flavourings but here are some ingredients that provide some extra oomph: robust herbs like rosemary and thyme, spices and fresh chilli, garlic, crispy bits of bacon, mushrooms and of course that humble old soul that is essential in the base of any worthy stew – the onion.Finishing it offI like to enjoy stew with a good helping of creamy polenta or mash potatoes. If you are low carbing it, try this garlic buttered cauliflower mash that is just heavenly!Finally, I leave you to explore our lip-smacking stew recipe hub. Warning: best not done on an empty stomach. Stay warm and in the words of wonderful Jenny Morris, “Keep that pot hot!” – Tessa Purdon.