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At our house, Sunday is downtime. I leave the intensive cooking behind at Hamersley's Bistro, our French-inspired restaurant in Boston, and turn to food that cooks largely by itself, like stew. These simmered dishes give me and my wife, Fiona, plenty of time to hang out with our six-year-old, Sophie.

What I especially like about stews is their versatility. The eight recipes here range from spicy braised beef with a Chinese accent to a rich French bourride, and three of my favorites focus on poultry, seafood and vegetables instead of the usual hunk of meat. These stews also take to add-ons; I drop biscuit dough on my vegetable stew and pat Parmesan crumbs on stewed lamb. 

The process of turning a cheap cut of meat into something grand always amazes me. The meat starts out as a big, tough, ugly lump. I brown it, add carrots, garlic and onions or other vegetables, and pour in some wine, water or stock. Maybe I'll flavor the mixture with a handful of spices and a bunch of herbs. The meat cooks for a few hours and it ends up a luscious meal to be devoured with friends over a glass of red wine. 

It's the oven that works this magic. Even though cooking stews on top of the stove is the accepted method, I prefer to use the oven. I can get the temperature a little lower and the heat a little evener, allowing the meat to cook more slowly with less evaporation--and freeing the stovetop for other dishes to accompany the main course. 

Gordon and Fiona Hamersley are the owners of Hamersley's Bistro in Boston. Fiona, who does the wine list at the bistro, provided these suggestions.

Published January 1997
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