I have a recipe for an Italian stew that is pretty much just caramelized onions and juice from tomatoes plus veal. My partner does not eat veal so we've substituted stewing beef to good effect, though it takes longer to cook and is not quite as tender.

I'd like to make the dish for some friends of ours, but they don't eat beef of any kind. We've tried it with chicken in the past but the chicken came out tough; we probably cooked it too long. The veal cooks for 1.5-2 hours over very low heat, the stewing beef is more to the 2 hour end, if not a little more. Can I successfully substitute chicken or pork and not have it come out tough? Any pointers on how long to cook it, or how to know when it's cooked but not overcooked?


3 Answers 3


I'd suggest skinless bone-in chicken thighs, as they have plenty of fat and collagen to keep them moist and tasty. I've cooked them in French-style wine-based stews, not to mention cacciatorre, for 2-3 hours before now and they just fall off the bone.

It is virtually impossible to overcook them, unless you boil them mercilessly for hours. Just get a nice gentle simmer going - not only will this make the meat tender, but it will improve the flavour of the tomato sauce as well.

Do not use chicken breast - it is far too lean.

  • 2
    And if you use pork, use a cut from the shoulder.
    – Sean Hart
    Commented Sep 11, 2011 at 12:50
  • Finally had the chance to try this out, and it worked very well. I mistakenly bought boneless thighs, and I think having the bone-in would have made the broth richer, which I think it needed. But overall I'm very happy -- thanks! Commented Sep 25, 2011 at 2:17
  • Welcome, glad you enjoyed it. Thighs are also very nice marinaded and roasted in the oven or barbecue. Commented Sep 25, 2011 at 8:31

If you substitute a meat, I would suggest stewing for a longer period of 4-6 hours, to allow connective tissue and muscle fiber to break down. This longer period turns tough, chewy meat into tender, succulent melt-in-your mouth goodness.

As Cos Callis said, lamb or goat chunks could work well, but you should check with your friends to see how they feel about lamb. While these are wonderful meats and have some flavor similarity to beef, some people find the muttony/gamy flavor of lamb very off-putting. Pork is another possibility, in which case you should use hocks or ham.

For extra flavor, you can sear/brown chunks of the meat before adding to your stew.

  • So cooking longer will make it more tender, not tougher? I wouldn't have thought that, which is why I'm here asking those more knowledgeable than I.... Commented Sep 10, 2011 at 19:36

First thought: Lamb (but if they don't eat beef do they eat lamb? Also, if it available to you: Goat)

If poultry is preferred option, then ground chicken or turkey. Brown it off, add it to the onions & juice and just slow/low cook till you are ready to serve.

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