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If I am making a stew say, does it matter if I dump in onions, garlic, bell pepper, tomato all at once or one by one?

My speculated reasons are:

  1. Giving enough space for each ingredient will allow it to dry out and the maillard reaction or caramelization to take place
  2. Ingredients have different 'hardness' so will take shorter or longer to break down. To get a similar consistency, each ingredient needs to be added at the right time
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    Number 2 is probably the over-riding factor. Your basic mirepoix can be tossed in at once, but if you add the garlic too early, it may over cook and taste bitter. I generally add hard veggies first (aromatics), then add softer ones (mushrooms, peppers, broccoli, etc), and then finish with the garlic and anything that can cook from carryover (spinach, basil, etc.). Bell peppers can go in earlier if using as the base for Cajun cooking. – JSM Jun 19 '15 at 22:55
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Your first suggestion is only partially valid. Let's say you add your onions first as many would do. After that your stew as a whole will most likely be too wet to get a maillard reaction going for subsequent additions. For me, the order of additions to a stew is roughly determined as such:

  • Put the ingredient that you most want to caramelize in first (usually meat or onions, but never garlic)
  • If you have ingredients that transfer their flavour more easily to fat than water, always put them in early, because once your stew becomes more watery that flavour will no longer be transferred
  • Put items that rely on their fragrance in late (For instance fresh basil)
  • Bell peppers always go in late for me, but that is partially because I always peel them
  • Give everything a cooking time that allows the ingredients to transfer their flavour to the stew while also maintaining some texture (basically your second point)

In the end it all comes down to adjusting your process so that everything you add to your stew is able to do what it's there for, which might be adding flavour, texture, colour, wetness or anything that takes your fancy.

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Stewing is not sautéing. Stewing is very forgiving. Brown your meats. Cook your veg, add the meat and stock and simmer slow for 10-12 hours.

Boil and add potatoes at the last hour. Season with salt and pepper at the end so that you get the salt just right. Salt is the most important skill of a cook.

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