Three Sisters Stew with Grouse
September 23, 2019 | Updated August 02, 2022
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If you’ve never had a classic three sisters stew, it’s time you did. The “three sisters,” corn, beans and squash, are a trinity that underpins much of Native American cooking. I take this one step further by adding sharp-tailed grouse, although you could add chicken or any meat, or none at all.
Sharp-tailed grouse, if you are not familiar, is a dark-meat grouse, similar to ptarmigan, spruce grouse or prairie chickens. All of these birds are assertive in flavor, meaning you’ll know you’re eating them and not beef chicken or lamb.
I like that flavor, but if you don’t, brine the birds overnight in the fridge with a solution of 1/4 cup seat salt to 1 quart water. Or just use something else, like pheasant or chicken thighs, rabbit or squirrel, a turkey thigh, or some other sort of grouse or partridge.
Sharpies are a creature of the Great Plains, and so I decided to make this three sisters stew an ode to that part of the country: great northern beans, sweet yellow corn and butternut squash. You can use whatever trio of corn, beans and squash makes you happy, even summer squash. Just skip the spaghetti squash. That would be weird in this stew.
I included some lambsquarters in there for color and nutrition. Use whatever green thing you’d like; spinach, dandelion greens, turnip greens, amaranth greens, chard or kale are all good options.
You can make your three sisters stew as elaborate or as easy as you want. Sure, you can use frozen corn, canned beans and store-bought broth, but I decided to make everything from scratch. I used fresh sweet corn from the farmer’s market, dry beans I cooked separately, and squash from my garden.
I also roasted the carcasses of two sharp-tailed grouse to become the base of the stew’s broth. All of this came together lazily on a Saturday, in between watching college football games.
There is one special ingredient in this three sisters stew: Fire-roasted, pureed tomatoes. It’s harvest season, so I am canning a lot of tomatoes, and I prep them by broiling them first until they are all slightly charred. Buzz in a blender and can or freeze. A few spoonfuls of this really added something to the stew — without making it a tomatoey stew. You don’t have to do this if you don’t want. It’ll still be a good stew with regular tomato paste.
Using smoked salt instead of regular salt is another nice touch, but not strictly needed.
After that, all you need is time. Make three sisters stew on a weekend, and it will provide you with a good lunch or easy dinner during the work week.
The flavor? Homey, filling, tasty — and it is a fantastic way to highlight the three pillars of Native American agriculture, plus that of the sharp-tailed grouse, an iconic native bird of our Great Plains.
No grouse? Use chicken thighs, or pheasant or turkey thighs, or venison, beef or lamb. I have another three sisters recipe that uses bison.
Three Sisters Stew with Grouse
OPTIONAL GROUSE BROTH
- 2 whole grouse, breasts removed and reserved
- oil to coat birds
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup wheat berries or pearled barley (optional)
- Salt (smoked salt if you have it)
- 2 to 3 cups cooked great northern beans
- 3 cups cubed winter squash
- 2 tablespoons fresh sage, minced
- 3 cups sweet corn
- 1/2 pound lambsquarters or other green (spinach, dandelions, turnip greens, etc.)
- Black pepper, freshly grated cheddar or parmesan and cider vinegar, all to taste
- Regardless of whether you are making broth or not, you will want to roast your birds at 400°F until well browned, about 1 hour. Remove the breasts and set aside, and lightly oil the carcasses. Salt well and set in a pan, uncovered, for an hour.
- If you are then making a broth, cover the two roasted carcasses with water by about an inch in a large pot or Dutch oven, and simmer with the bay leaves for up to 4 hours. Strain the broth and pick all the meat off the bones. The roasting and broth-making can all be done up to a few days ahead of time.
- In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the butter over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute.
- Add the wheat or barley and stir well. Cook a minute, then add the tomato paste. Stir well and let all this cook for a few minutes, until the tomato paste darkens a bit.
- At this point add the broth you made, or 2 quarts of pre-made broth -- chicken, vegetable, grouse, whatever. Also add the shredded meat from the roasted carcasses if you've made broth, or, if you haven't, drop the roasted carcasses into the stew. Simmer until the meat is tender, about 2 hours. Add salt to taste.
- If you didn't make broth, now is time to remove the meat from the bones. If you did, move to the next step. Either way, this is a good time to dice the breast meat of your birds.
- Add the squash and minced sage and cook for 30 minutes. Add the cooked beans, corn, greens and the diced breast meat. Simmer all this for 10 minutes.
- Finish the stew by adding salt, ground black pepper and cider vinegar to taste. Ladle the stew into bowls and grate some cheddar or parmesan over top.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Love that your recipes not only leave room for substitutions, but encourage them. Made this with venison, so good.
Perfect food after a cold day in the field. This stew is fantastic. I chose to leave out the wheat/barley and add a few more beans. Love using the lambsquarters, I’m lucky(?) to have is grow quite prolifically in my garden.
Hi Hank, how do you keep the Partridge/Grouse meat from drying out when roasting it? As I recall they’re pretty lean birds, though I haven’t cooked on in a while. We harvested three over the weekend and I’d love to try this stew but I just want to make sure I keep the meat tender. Thoughts?
Walker: In this case it doesn’t matter because you are going to pick the meat off the carcass and stew it for a long time.
Thank you! I’m looking forward to trying this out.
Great dish, Hank! Added a poblano with the onion, black beans and sweet potato, as well. Brined dusky grouse (2) for the meat. Chard and baby red oak leaf for the greens.
Loved this soup. Made with rabbit, sweet potato and spinach. So rich and flavorful.
Made this with quail and it was amazing, making it again this weekend!
Delicious recipe- followed it to the letter.
Follow up to previous comment…. Yup, it was as good as expected! I wound up using hominy instead of fresh corn, and it was a really good substitution. Mine turned out less liquidy than the photo, probably because I didn’t measure the starches too carefully, but the result was fantastic.
This is perfectly timed! We’re having an amazing Alaska fall day here; and I decided to get out grouse hunting to help wipe off the skunk of a disappointing moose season. I’m not much of a bird hunter, but I managed to come home with a few spruce grouse. This stew is on the menu for tomorrow night. Spruce grouse aren’t generally my favorite birds, but Hank, you never lead me astray, so I’m sure this will be heavenly!
Delicious. Used up some of your “easy duck confit” as the meat, roasted bell pepper puree instead of tomatoes and no corn available. Cooked the stew in the Instant Pot for 35 minutes high pressure, added the roasted squash, greens and fresh sage after.
Perfect fall stew! We used pheasants and it was wonderful! Plus it makes a ton so we’ll have lots of leftovers all week.
Made this with braised turkey legs and thighs. Was great. Had leftovers for breakfast with a backyard fried egg on top!
Made a version of this Monday night and turned out to be a hit. I used squirrel for the meat and added wild rice instead of squash (I realize that’s a stretch of a substitution but squash are just coming into season in MN). The combination of flavors play off each other nice and make a great comfort food. Also, a solid starting point you could riff off from if you’re feeling experimental. Thanks for creating and sharing.
Would summer squash or zucchini work instead of winter squash (or in addition)?
Lawrence: Sure, but remember it doesn’t take long to cook, so add it at the end.
Hey Hank! If I use turkey thighs for this should I change up the initial roasting temp and/or time?
Steve: Yes. In fact, I’d just brown the thighs in a pan rather than roasting them.
Sounds delicious! Just a little confused, in the recipe under stew, number 3 & 5 say to add the grouse meat? When do you add it?
Sue Ellen: You add everything but the breast in Step 3, then the diced breast meat in Step 5.
What about homemade vinegar in a water solution? Or a vinegar solution. Instead of a salt brine.