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!
- 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.
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.