Thursday, August 30, 2012

El Rancho Stew, US Army, 1941

     El Rancho Stew first appeared as a US Army recipe in 1917. It could be categorized as an early Tex-Mex recipe, but its true origins are obscure. El Rancho stew may have originated as a derivative of the army’s “Spanish Beef” recipe, but it also bears some similarity to Caldo Gallego. A thick soup or stew from Galicia in northwestern Spain, variations of Caldo Gallego may include carrots, turnips, greens and potatoes.
     The only difference between the 1917 and the 1941 versions of El Rancho Stew is that red chilies, cumin, and oregano (added to taste) were replaced by chili powder. Therefore, this version of the El Rancho stew recipe could be found in use from 1917 through 1944. The current version (2003) of the US Armed Forces recipe for El Rancho stew bears only a superficial resemblance to its ancestor, having dropped the tomatoes, chilies, turnips and cabbage, and added frozen peas. On the other hand, it is interesting to note that in the  1941 version "any kind of fresh meat and any vegetables" could be used.
Yield: 4 servings

U.S.                             Metric                         Ingredients
20 oz                           545 g                           meat (beef, pork or veal), fresh, without bone and                                                                             
                                                                       with little fat, cut in about 1½-inch cubes
10 oz                           275 g                           potatoes, cut into large pieces
2.6 fl oz                       75 ml                           tomatoes, canned, crushed
6.4 oz                          180 g                           tomatoes, fresh
3.2 oz                          90 g                             carrots, quartered lengthwise
4.5 oz                          130 g                           turnips, sliced across grain
4.5 oz                          130 g                           cabbage, cut in eighths
3.2 oz                          90 g                             onions, small whole
0.08 oz/1tsp                 2.25 g                          chili powder

1.      Place the meat, turnips, carrots, and tomatoes in a large pan of cold water.
2.      The liquid should cover all the solids by about an inch (2.5 cm).
3.      Simmer until the meat is tender and then add the remaining vegetables.
4.      Season with salt and chili powder, and simmer until the vegetables are done.
5.      All ingredients should be thoroughly cooked but not broken into pieces.
6.      The stew is improved by a bunch of parsley chopped fine and added just before serving; a few sprigs of parsley may be used for garnishing.
7.      Serve hot with the vegetables whole, if possible.
8.      Any kind of fresh meat and any vegetables may be used in this stew.  


  1. Interesting date, 1917. Given the strong presence of the Army along the Mexican border from 1910 to 1920, and of course across the border, I wonder if Texas or Mexico were having a bit of a culinary impact?

  2. Absolutely. From the end of the Civil War until the build-up for WWI (with a brief expansion in 1898), the US Army was primarily a frontier force, with a large part of it deployed in the southwest. The first Manual for Army Cooks in 1879 was very closely copied from a British Army cooking manual, and the 1883 manual wasn't much different. But the 1896 edition saw a major shift. Regional dishes such as New England Boiled Dinner, Creole Sauce, Hominy Grits and Jambalaya made their debut. There was also an explosion of what we now refer to as Tex-Mex cooking. The Army included recipes for Spanish Stew, Spanish Steak, “Estufado”, “Salza”, Tortillas, Tamales, Chile con Carne, Spanish Fried Rice and incorporated ingredients such as “Mexican beans” and Colorado chiles. I think it likely that soldiers returning home after a tour in the Army played a large part in spreading the popularity of these dishes.