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Irish Stew

The quintessential Irish dish, Irish stew can provoke heated discussion among people in Ireland about its ingredients. They do vary a lot from recipe to recipe, but all are agreed that the meat is always lamb (or mutton) and there must be onions and potatoes.

Main image by snapperwolf*

There is also general agreement that if you use beef, add Guinness or, horror of horrors, whiskey, it is something else – call it what you will, but don’t call it Irish stew!

After that things diverge. Most people say that carrots are a must (I am one of them), others also add one or more of peas, turnip, parsnip or celery. The real purist will insist it must also contain pearl barley, but this would not be common nowadays at least.

The meat used is not the best cuts of lamb, but the cheaper ones.

This was the food of the ordinary, poor, people and those are the only cuts they would have had available. In fact originally it would have been mutton, but there is no butcher I know who will admit to selling mutton these days.

In any case these cuts are more flavourful, and the long, slow cooking time means that the meat is meltingly tender in the final dish.

The image just above was taken of our dinner this evening, and the recipe below is the one used to make it. And very delicious it was too!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb lamb shoulder, cut into cubes
  • 3 medium or 4 large potatoes
  • 2 medium onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 large carrots, cut into quite thick pieces
  • 3 cups stock
  • Small knob of butter
  • Fresh parsley
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • Sprig of Thyme
  • 1 lamb bone, the larger the better
  • Salt and pepper

The lamb bone is optional, but does add a lot of flavour. It also adds fat, so if you use it you will need to de-fat the cooking liquid before you serve the stew, see below for details.

For the stock, chicken or vegetable will do, lamb is ideal. If you are using stock cubes rather than home-made stock, leave out the salt when seasoning – they tend to be very high in salt already.

You will need a large casserole dish with a tight fitting lid. Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC/Gas Mark 5).

Makes enough for 3-4 people for a light meal. Serve with fresh bread rolls to mop up the delicious juice.

Method

Melt the butter in a pan over a fairly high temperature and fry the meat until it is browned all over, about 3-5 minutes. Transfer to the casserole. Fry the onions on the same pan for about a minute or two, remove them to the casserole just before they start to brown.

Pour half the stock into the pan, turn the heat up as high as it will go and scrape the pan as the stock boils to get all the meat juices. Pour both portions of stock over the meat and onions, add the bay leaves, the thyme and the lamb bone. Season with a little salt and pepper. Cover and put in the oven for about 45 minutes to one hour.

Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and cut medium sized potatoes into three pieces, large ones into 4 or 5 pieces.

Remove the stew from the oven. Add the carrots, mixing them in well with the meat, then lay the potatoes over the top of the stew. Return to the oven and cook for another 45 minutes or so – check whether it is done by testing if the potatoes are cooked through.

Before serving, remove and discard the bone, the thyme and the bay leaves. Pour off the cooking liquid and leave to stand for a few minutes. This will bring the fat to the top and allow you to remove it.

I do this by putting it in a bowl and laying double sheets of kitchen paper gently on the surface. They soak up the fat very well. It may take 3-4 goes to get it all away, depending on how fatty the bone was.

Return the defatted liquid to the stew, mix the potatoes into the rest of the stew and stir in a handful of roughly chopped parsley. Return to the oven for about 10 minutes.

Note that the sauce is not thickened – if you get a stew with a thickened sauce, it may be very nice but it’s not Irish Stew!

There are two ways people deal with this delicious liquid on their dinner plate – some people mash some of the potato into it to thicken it, others leave it till the end and then mop it up with some bread.

 

What Others Say

  1. ghjkb Dec 16, 2008 at 3:05 am

    wow wow wow wow

  2. Seward Dec 17, 2008 at 3:05 am

    Dude that was a deliceoso dish i made it for a school project and mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

  3. df Apr 6, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    Who ever wrote this obviously isn’t Irish or if so, lives in Dublin.

    • Katherine Apr 6, 2009 at 8:09 pm

      I wrote it, I cooked it, I photographed it, I ate it, I’m Irish and I live in Kilkenny :)

  4. mummyjaan May 5, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Sounds  – and looks – delicious.

  5. John Mar 9, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    Thank you from Cork

  6. Brian Fulton Mar 11, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    At last an Irish Stew worthy of its contents. The above recipe is as it should be, anything else is “not” Irish Stew. I find the fresh herbs, parsley chopped added at the end perfect. Some people like their stew dry, in that case just open reduce the liquid to the right consistency, or reduce the liquid added at start. An excellent recipe

  7. Leslie Mar 14, 2010 at 3:41 am

    Awesome… I am having a St. Patricks Day Party next week. I decided to try this ahead of time to make sure it was good! Wow. I am impressed!!!! Thank you for keeping it traditional!

  8. Doug Strange Mar 15, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    I first made this recipe back in December 2008, just a day or two after it appeared on the web.  It has become one of my favorite recipes and is better than the Irish Stew I’ve ordered in the restaurants while riding through Ireland on motorcycle (the only way to see Ireland).

  9. Cindy Mar 18, 2010 at 1:12 am

    We made this stew and colcannon tonight for St. Patrick’s Day dinner. THANK YOU! It was wonderful, and a nice change from the stereotypical corned beef and cabbage my m-i-l demands we make.

  10. Sharlene Mar 18, 2010 at 4:05 am

    We just made this stew today in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.  It was wonderful!   We’re looking forward to having the leftover stew for dinner tomorrow as I’m sure it’ll be even better!
    Thanks again for this recipe.  It’s definitely going to become a family favorite.
    This stew reminds us of our visit to Ireland!

  11. Dotty Shields Jul 15, 2010 at 9:03 am

    I am Irish but i lived  in London for many years . This is the best Irish stew i have ever made and believe me i have made many over the years.

    Many thanks

    • Katherine Jul 20, 2010 at 10:20 pm

      Thank you, glad you enjoyed it :)

  12. Ms. Barry Jul 20, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    thank you for the recipe..
    I live in San Francisco, California and need to make a traditional Irish Stew for a nice Irish man that helped us with our yard..
    Judging from the comments, and the ingredients, I will use this recipe  (out of the hundreds available on the web) to cook for our friend.

    If anyone has any cooking tips for me, you know those special touches that make it perfect, please post them as I will check again before I actually make this dish….
    Thanks again,
    Ms. Barry 

    • Katherine Jul 20, 2010 at 10:15 pm

      You know, you don’t need any special touches. The thing that ruins Irish Stew is the idea that it can be improved – which is what led to all the abominations of recipes that include whiskey or Guinness or such, and turns it into something completely different. The recipe has endured in its traditional form because it’s great as it is. Trust me if you serve this, just as it is, to any Irish man he will be absolutely happy!!

  13. Carmel Jul 27, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Going to use this for Hungarian visitors.. it looks like the most genuine Irish stew recipe I have come across. .. just like my mother used to make.. and what I really love is that I have all the ingredients.. plain simple ingredients.. just have to go get the lamb!  Will it beat a Hungarian Goulash?? I think so.. will let u know!

  14. Paul Murphy Aug 20, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Looks and sounds great. I’m off to the shops now to get the ingredients. Any preference on the lamb bone? or does it make a difference?

  15. neilo Sep 17, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    you cant beat a steaming bowl of irish stew and homemade soda bread with real butter mmm…roll on winter!!

  16. TexasJan Oct 17, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Not like what I had in Ballyshannon.  The lady and my B&B made it with Beef, not lamb (or mutton).  She also had parsnips in the stew, but no potatoes.  She brought a large bowl of steaming potatoes to the table and you added as many or as few as you wanted, and the wonderful right out of the oven Brown Soad Bread witb slabs of Irish Gold Butter.  It was out of the world and she served the best, creamiest bread pudding I have ever had in my entire life as dessert.  Oh my mouth is watering.  It would be almost worth the airfare for a big helping of it right now.

    • Katherine Oct 21, 2010 at 9:14 pm

      I am sure your landladies stew was lovely, and there is nothing that sticks to the ribs like a good beef stew. But Irish Stew is not made with beef.

      • Patrick Sep 15, 2011 at 6:02 pm

        I suppose it depends on who’s cookin’ :-)

        I remember my Mom & Dad always used beef, i guess it was cheaper than buying lamb. Anyway, I wanted to thank you for a hearty meal! It’s inspiartional for those (like myself) that are taking an increasing interest in cooking. From my curiousity & discovery it’s not about who’s better or who’s best, but inspirational for the fact that you start to explore your taste buds a bit more than when you were the dinner guest.

    • tricia Sep 20, 2012 at 1:48 am

      That was a great brown stew im sure, both are very irish but when we use beef it,s called beef stew or brown stew but no matter about the name it sounds like you had a great irish dinner made by a great cook and you cant beat that, the best meals are made by people who love to cook for others.

  17. Mercedes Nov 9, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!

    What a wonderful (easy) recipe. We have loved Irish stew for years but never made it.
    I took out of my freezer what i thought to be oxtail, but found when it was defrosted mutton neck (shock horror) WHAT TO DO? i was really looking forward to oxtail stew. (lightbulb) I know IRISH STEW, and i must say that when we had finished eating i did not miss my oxtail. This recipe is quick,easy and very tasty i am sure this will not be the last time i make it.

  18. Charlestown Nov 15, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Add a handful of Barley and some diced cabbage. Barley thickens soup and adds taste. Cabbage bit more goodness 

  19. Erin, Cork Dec 8, 2010 at 3:37 am

    Fab recipe im only starvin here reading about it… im a mid twenties backpacker missing my mums cooking deeply… So im out to learn how to cook them the trad way… Thanks

  20. Kieran Dec 13, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    Thanks very much Katherine for putting this up. Just finished a bowl with some homemade brown bread.Delicious!!Just whats needed at this time of year.Looking forward to trying your colcannon next.

  21. Daithi Jan 3, 2011 at 7:05 am

    At last, a decent Irish Stew recipe with nothing added and nothing taken away. Thank You
    Daithi

  22. Dylllan, Texas Jan 6, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    I am doing a project at school about Ireland. this stew looks really good. i think ill try to make it at home

  23. Triona Feb 5, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    Bay leaves? I’m sure they taste good in the stew, but there’s no way that they’re a traditional ingredient. They only became available in main stream supermarkets here about 10 years ago!

  24. Katherine Feb 7, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    You are right about bay leaves, but then there are things left out that would have possibly been there in older times too.

    My granny, who taught me to cook, had a tendency to chuck in a little of whatever was available around the place to add flavour. So there might be a few nettles or some burdock, or even young hawthorn leaves or wild garlic. You won’t get any of those in the shop, so think of the bay leaves as a replacement :)

  25. Mark Feb 8, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    when do you add the  parsley an how should you cut it up an I’m camping so i’m using a slow cookier is that ok 

  26. Susanna Lepianka Feb 18, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    I was raised on Irish stew and can verify this is a traditional recipe and very very nice it is too, warming and hearty yum. The simple things are always the best.

  27. Katherine Feb 28, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Mark, add the parsley right at the end. You don’t need to cut it, just tear it up roughly and stir it in.

  28. Pat Mar 1, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Sounds great. I want to make this for a group of eight. Can you give me crock pot instructions so I can make ahead?

  29. Gerald May 9, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Making this stew right now, smells great. It’s like a little trip to Ireland for my nose! Can’t wait for dinner.

  30. Belinda - from Perth Australia Jul 25, 2011 at 7:15 am

    I was just looking for an Irish stew recipe, My New Zealand born mum raised by Australian parents in Australia used to reguarly make “Irish Stew” when I was a child. I can’t wait to try the real deal! It is cold here at the moment so I am going to make this for dinner tonight.

  31. Sharon - Michigan, USA Sep 27, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    We are having an international dinner at church. I am Irish and am doing the stew. It is great. Thanks much for the recipe.

    • tricia Sep 19, 2012 at 5:57 am

      I hope you have a succesful day you can add a little parsly to this dish if you wish take care

  32. Anup Mathur Aug 19, 2012 at 8:09 am

    I stumbled upon this recipe in Sept 2010. Google, of course!
    How many times have I made it since?
    Two score and more!
    My wife and both the daughters simply love this on cold wintry nights!
    With home made soda bread; minimal recipe from here: http://www.europeancuisines.com/Peters-Mums-Soda-Bread-Recipe
     
    Thank you so much for sharing this; to us, this is the most satisfying stew ever!

  33. gogan lucien Aug 27, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Am Gogan lucien . i work in irish company in lagos nigeria . I’ve tried this recipe and it’s really delicious . 

  34. tricia Sep 19, 2012 at 5:45 am

    I cook irish stew all the time, everyone i have cooked it for love it, im not saying im a great cook but i can cook this dish and this recipe above is as near as you will get. i use lamb shanks (this is the traditional piece used although people had to resort to mutton in poorer times) i simply use the same quanty of potoes as onions and add 3 or 4 carrots, a bay leaf or 2 salt and white pepper (not black and not  to be added till the end) not black cos the lamb and carrots and onions are already sweet, cut the poatoes any size you want NO.1 … put the shanks on to boil then simmer… NO…2 when the center of the bone is allmost clear (about 20 to 25 mins) add all the veg but keep a few of the pototoes aside….., the pototo will thicken the soup so dont be afraid to let them get soft or break up NO…3, when this happens you can add the rest of the pototoes (which i like to do) or you can cook them on there own and add to the stew dont forget to season the stew at this stage , this is most important, do not add salt and white pepper untill the end………this is the same recipe for lamb soup just take the meat off the bone. add a few more spuds near the end if you like it a bit thicker.  try it  this way it could,t be simpler… enjoy…  

  35. Kevin Jan 25, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    Sounds great, although I notice your picture would indicate that you have celery but the ingredients don’t mention it. The devil is in the detail;0)

    • Katherine Jan 31, 2013 at 12:57 pm

      Ah, you are right! I do often add a little celery. I’ve never known a stew/casserole that’s not the better for it. I don’t like celery at all as a vegetable side, but it adds something to stews.

  36. Jackie Feb 23, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    Dutch oven makes it even easier!  Great, easy recipe.  I used lamb shoulder chops that I got on sale.  I dredged them in seasoned flour in my dutch oven and browned them in butter.  I removed the chops briefly to cook the onions, then put it in the oven according to the recipe.  I know this isn’t traditional but I wanted a great lamb stew more than a traditional Irish stew – sorry.  It was amazingly tasty and easy.  The hardest part may have been trimming the meat off the chops and connecting tissue in the end.  I didn’t de-fat the broth because the chops weren’t that fatty.  Thanks for posting!

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