Irish stew, simply delicious

This week everything seems to be either pastel bright colors as Easter nears or varying shades of green to remind us that St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching.  There is a small part of my heritage that might have some Irish, my kids most definitely have Irish blood, this requires some homage be paid.  But, I am not fond of corned beef and cabbage; I am not fond of corned beef, there, cabbage is wonderful.  We tried, stuffed potatoes were usually the compromise when it came down to our celebratory evening meal on the 17th of March. Who can say no to a stuffed potato?

Irish stew with potatoes and parsley.
Topped with smashed potatoes and chopped parsley, Irish stew is a fabulous repast on a damp late winter eve.

This year I thought I would shake things up a little bit.  We no longer have a ready supply of stew meat in the freezer as we haven’t purchased a side of beef in a long time.  When we did our grocery shopping Hubby suggested lamb stew meat: what a stellar idea!  Have you had lamb stew? If you make stew, you can substitute lamb and amp up the flavor profile a bit.  I use my fresh herbs, but dried can be used, and I have Swiss chard in the garden that I wanted to pick for it too.  But the best part of this stew is the ‘stock’, not my usual broth, but a dark lager. In this case a bottle of Session black lager as it is the closest production I could locate to Walla Walla.

Irish cooking, like any other ethnic cooking, is all about what is to hand and available.  The Emerald Isle folk historically raised cows, pigs, sheep and chickens as well as wild foraged or grew temperate crops – just like Washington State.  Ironically, way back when wealth was measured by how many cows you owned; beef was only a food to the very upper classes.  Pork and lamb, along with seafood, would have been the only meat a peasant would consume and at that, only for a special event.  (Having come to terms with that, I am happy to forgo corned beef for eternity!)  Of course, we should all be very familiar with the Potato Famine that struck Ireland, so consuming potatoes should be done to honor those that suffered so very much; again, the masses, the peasant classes.

Irish stew ingredients.
Makings for ‘Irish Stew’: lamb, garlic, onion, carrots, turnips, fresh thyme and rosemary, beer to make the broth and potatoes to serve on top.

Irish Stew

1 lb lamb (or beef) stew meat, remove large pieces of fat

1/2 onion, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 sprigs fresh or 2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 small sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary

2 medium (about 1 cup) turnips (rutabagas or parsnip would work too), cubed

4 small (about 1 cup) carrots, cubed

potato to bake and share between the four servings

1 cup coarsely chopped Swiss chard, spinach or kale

1 11-12 oz bottle of black lager beer

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Irish stew veggies prepared.
Mince the onion and garlic, cube the turnip and carrots and leave the herbs whole.

In a medium sized casserole dish that can go from stove-top to oven, heat the pan with the oil.  Toss the onion and garlic until the onion is just translucent and push it to the side of the pan.  Place the lamb in a single layer along the bottom of the pan to quickly sear the largest sides, moving it to the pile of onion and garlic to make room for the remaining pieces until all of the meat is just barely browned.   I prefer using tongs for this step.  Lower the heat to ensure the lamb doesn’t begin to cook through.  Place the herbs and root vegetables in the pot and gently pour the lager over everything.

Cover the pan (with aluminum foil if necessary)

Irish stew ready to cook in the oven.
Ready to slow cook in the oven, covered with aluminum foil, all day at 200*F.

and put the whole thing in the preheated oven at 200*F (use an oven thermometer if you don’t trust your oven).  The idea is to cook the lamb at a low temperature for a long time, mine was in for eight hours.  You can use a crock pot if you can monitor the heat.

Wrap the potato in foil and bake it along side the stew or zap it in the microwave later if it is a large spud (tough to cook at such a low temperature).  I had several small ones; they were microwaved since they would have fallen through the oven grates.

Early spring Swiss chard plants.
New Swiss chard greens will be picked and put in my ‘Irish stew’ to wilt them, but not cook them.

Periodically (twice or three times through the day) spoon some of the simmering juices on top and turn the contents to ensure everything in the pot gets to spend time in the liquid.  About an hour before you serve, place the chopped greens in the pot and stir.

Smash the cooked potato, place stew in serving bowls and divide the potato evenly on top, sprinkle with parsley.  Serve immediately as this isn’t a piping hot dish that can sit for a long time.  It should be very tender and the cooking liquid should be far more complex than the original beer you put in.  Left over stew can be stored or frozen in a sealed container for another meal, but heat gently so you don’t over cook the meat.

Irish stew with potatoes and parsley.
Topped with smashed potatoes and chopped parsley, Irish stew is a fabulous repast on a damp late winter eve.

We have been having lovely spring days, but, typical of March, today was a rather more chilly and damp day, so was yesterday.  Choosing a meal to suit the day can be challenging, a pot of stew can accommodate both the new greens available and use the root vegetables we find through the winter months. Which ever meat you choose to use, consider having a bottle of the beer to pair with your meal.

Wear your green well next week and enjoy a bit of Irish tradition for supper.Cheers!

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