How to Make a Traditional Irish Lamb Stew
Traditional Irish Lamb Stew
Traditional Irish Lamb Stew
I have quite a collection of Irish recipes and techniques, and they stay at the top of my favorites list. Most use simple, fresh ingredients and easy techniques such as roasting, baking, or stewing, meaning they're quick to throw together. I love to pull this stew out to let it simmer on the back of the stove while I'm doing other things. I usually make a double batch, planning on leftovers. This is a classic example of a dish that's even better the second day, and it reheats beautifully. You can even freeze it, tightly wrapped, for up to three months, and pull out dinner in no time.
You don't want to save this stew for St. Patrick's Day. There are too many awesome things about it to hold it for a special occasion. Or maybe go ahead and pull it out for more special occasions—because it's delicious, and it will certainly impress your guests. Rich, hearty, and filling, the flavors in this stew just make you want to close your eyes and savor every bite. This is the quintessential comfort food stew for a cold winter or early spring night.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind with this stew though. This is a pretty classic combination of ingredients—bacon, lamb, carrot, potato, white wine, and thyme—although I give a couple of options for you so you can customize it the way you like it. It actually is better after a day or two—so put it together ahead of time and it just gets better and better. If you want, you can certainly prepare it in a slow cooker. Assemble it up to right before you add the vegetables, allow it to cook on low all day, and at the end of the day, add the vegetables and give it another hour on high. Other wise the veggies will become mushy.
If you'd like, you can substitute the white wine for either red wine or Guinness. I just happen to like the white wine with the lamb. I think the more delicate flavor of a pinot gris is just perfect with the lamb—the flavor of the wine comes through but doesn't dominate the dish. And of course, you'll want to serve it with some fresh buttered Irish soda bread!
Irish Bacon vs. American Bacon
What the Irish call bacon is much more similar to what we in the U.S. call Canadian bacon - it's a cured pork loin, not the smoked pork belly. I use regular American bacon because it's easier to get and less expensive and because I'm an American and Southerner, which means I think bacon should be in everything. but if you want a more authentically Irish stew, go for the unsmoked, cured pork loin.
Ingredients - Traditional Irish Lamb Stew
- 1 pound thick sliced bacon diced
- 3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder or boneless leg of lamb, well trimmed and cut into one inch cubes (See "Choosing the Right Cut" below if you need help picking out your meat.)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 1/2 cups beef stock
- 4 medium carrots, diced
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
- 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme (fresh thyme is critical here)
- 2 bay leaves
- 3/4 cup white wine
- Optional - 1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
- Optional garnish - minced fresh parsley, lemon zest
Choosing the Right Cut
Larger supermarkets often sell cubed lamb as stew meat, however not in my small town. Find a boneless leg of lamb or shoulder, and cut it yourself into 1-inch cubes.
One trick with working with lamb is to trim it really well. The fat tends to carry the 'gaminess' that can be associated with lamb, so taking the time to trim away all the fat, cartilage and connective tissue will really improve the final dish. The lamb will retain it's distinctive flavor, without being overpowering.
In a pinch, you can substitute beef. Beef isn't as authentic as lamb, but it's more available and less expensive, especially if you buy your own chuck roast, and trim and cut it yourself. It's still an incredible dish, and you won't be disappointed.
Traditional Irish Lamb Stew Recipe
The Perfect Potato
Of course, I'll tell you to make your food the way you prefer—that's the main benefit of cooking from scratch! But this stew is perfect with a nice, starchy Russet potato. Gold, purple or fingerling potatoes are all fine, but I love the fluffy white Russet best for this dish.
Directions - Traditional Irish Lamb Stew
- Over medium heat, in a large Dutch oven, cook bacon until brown and crispy, stirring occasionally under the fat is fully rendered. Drain bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together flour, salt and pepper. Add lamb pieces, and coat evenly. Working in batches, shake off excess flour, and brown lamb pieces in bacon fat. Don't add too much to the pan at once, or they'll steam instead of brown. Be patient and add no more than a single layer at once, making sure the pieces don't touch. As they brown, remove the brown pieces from pan and set them aside. Once finished with all pieces, drain any excess fat.There probably won't be any. And if you run short of enough fat to brown all the meat, add a little olive oil.
- Add onion and garlic to the pan and cook until onion turns golden. If you're using mushrooms, add them at this stage. Deglaze pot with water, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the Dutch oven, and add bacon, beef stock, white wine and browned lamb pieces (with collected juices) to the onions and garlic in the Dutch oven
- Bring the pot to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer, cover, and cook for about 1 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
- Add remaining ingredients to the pot, cover and simmer for half an hour, or until vegetables are tender. Taste, and adjust for salt and pepper.
- To serve, ladle into bowls, and top with just a sprinkle of fresh minced parsley or a tiny bit of lemon zest. This is really amazing with fresh, hot Irish soda bread, although a crusty baguette is almost as beautiful. Toss a quick, fresh, green salad and dinner is ready!
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© 2011 Jan Charles