Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St Paddy's Day with Irish Lamb Stew

Leprechaun gnome hiding in mug
Yesterday I wrote about my adventure making Irish Brown Bread, or Soda Bread. I am so very pleased with the outcome of that recipe, and plan to repeat it, trying out a few other things; one most notably, the use of barley flour in some amount. That aside, today I am making an Irish type of lamb stew, for a tip of the hat to St. Paddy's Day.

As I wrote yesterday, when looking at a new recipe, most particularly one from a specific ethnicity, I try to get all the information about the background as possible before actually creating a recipe. I may or not accede to all the strictures, but I make my decisions from an informed standpoint. Hopefully. Again, looking up traditional recipes and background, I learned that firstly, the traditional meat is mutton. The peasant Irish would have kept the sheep until other uses were no longer viable (milk, wool) and then the animal might be butchered, and voila, mutton. Nowadays, mutton is hard to come by, so the most selected meat to use is lamb shoulder. I only had access to what is available in my freezer. Either I cut up another leg of lamb, or use the stew-type cut called chislic in these parts. Unfortunately, chislic comes with an excessive amount of fat, so I spent time cutting as much off as possible.

In general, recipes for Irish Lamb Stew abound. There are recipes from many famous chefs as well as others like me, writing a blog and learning. Many of the recipes I read online called for using a dark beer such as Guinness Stout for some, if not all, the cooking liquid. I thought, "What a great idea!" And then when I came to read some admonitions about what an Irish peasant may have done long ago, using beer in their stew was absolutely not done. Much like with using butter in the Soda Bread, where the thought was that they'd rather slather butter on the finished bread than waste it in the recipe - the same goes for beer. Beer in the stew? Heavens no, they would rather drink it, when available. It seems that a true authentic Irish stew is made with mutton, onions, potatoes and water. The additions of barley and/or carrots is argued to give the "wrong" flavors. Oh well. While I like to adhere to basics as much as possible, I do like carrots and barley, so I opted to use them.

Irish Lamb Stew and Brown Bread
Up until this morning, I still had not set down definite amounts for the stew. When I make a stew of any kind, more often than not I am tossing things in until it looks "right" to me. I make a pile of something that seems a good amount, then measure it to write down the amounts. This is what I did with this stew. Another thing about traditional Irish Stew; the fat used. It is stipulated that the meat should not be fatty. Most old recipes do not call for browning the meat (I enjoyed this site and the information through the years), but instead layering it with onion and potatoes. I think I saw mention of a knob of butter somewhere in my reading, but generally, all the stew ingredients are placed into a pot, well covered and sealed and stewed slowly. I did use fat to brown the meat, dredged in flour. I do not often dredge meat in flour and had not initially planned to do this.

This required browning, and the only oil I keep is olive, which I do not believe would give a traditional flavor, much as I love olive oil! Browning in butter would just burn the butter, so I scrapped that idea. Instead, I used bacon fat. Maybe not traditional, but then neither is browning!  One thing that occurred while browning the dredged meat: a LOT of fond. It was so dark, though not - quite - burned, that when I added in a bit of water to loosen it up, it created the most beautiful, and beautifully fragrant, base for the stew. I added onion and garlic to this mixture and stewed them for about 20 minutes while prepping the other ingredients. The whole pot, once assembled, smelled heavenly.

Nicely thickened Irish Stew
If lamb is unavailable, beef stew meat can be substituted, by the way. The best pot to use is an enameled cast iron. It heats wonderfully and does not burn food easily.

I had planned to make a small pot of lamb stock to use as the liquid in the stew. And then I forgot. I had one bone from a leg of lamb just waiting in the freezer, so I pulled it out this morning and set it in a 375 degree oven for an hour to brown it. This bone I set into the center of the stew pot, to hopefully also lend its magical flavors. I am anticipating a wonderfully redolent pot of stew for dinner tonight, with some flavorful Brown Bread alongside.

My Irish Lamb Stew

Irish Lamb Stew

serves 6 to 8

2 pounds lamb shoulder meat, or other lamb stew meat
1/2 cup flour, for dredging
1 teaspoon salt
few grinds of pepper
2 tablespoons bacon fat, or other oil
1 cup water or beef stock
1 large onion, cubed
1 - 2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups celery, sliced
1 1/2 cups peeled, sliced carrots
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup long-cooking barley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
more pepper if desired

5 cups water or stock 
2 pounds potatoes

All done!
Preheat oven to 275 degrees, or whatever temperature will maintain a low simmer. Cut the meat into chunks, if it is not, already. Mix the flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and some pepper and dredge the meat in this mixture. Heat an enameled cast iron pot (preferable, if available) over medium high heat and add in 1 tablespoon of oil or bacon fat. Brown half the beat, removing to a plate. Brown the second half of the meat and remove to the plate. Add 1 cup of water or stock to the pot and stir, scraping up the deep brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add in the onion and garlic and stir, allowing this to cook gently while prepping the celery & carrots. Once ready, add the meat back into the pot along with the celery and carrots. Add the parsley, barley, thyme, bay leaves, the extra teaspoon salt, more pepper if desired and the 5 cups of water or stock. Let the stew come to a gentle boil. Peel and cut into very small chunks one of the potatoes and add in. This is to help with thickening the stew. Cover with a tight fitting lid and set into the oven to cook slowly for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Peel and cut the remaining potatoes into larger chunks and add to the stew. Cover and return the pot to the oven for at least another hour, or until the potatoes are cooked through. 

Too many ingredients? Maybe. This stew suited my husband and me just fine, regardless.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.