A simple lamb stew is one of the hallmark dishes of Irish cooking and a hearty centerpiece for a St. Patrick’s Day meal. Rich and brothy, with only a handful of ingredients, this is a lamb stew at its most elemental, though different cooks will embellish it in different ways.
A basic lamb stew includes meat, potatoes, onions, water and not much else. Parsley is a typical finishing touch, and sometimes another root vegetable or two are added for more flavor and possibly color. Turnips, parsnips and carrots are typical examples.
Mutton is the type of lamb most used for stews in centuries past. Mutton is lamb that is older than 2 years, usually between 2 and 3 years of age. It can be very tough, and only low and slow simmering makes it tender enough to enjoy. These days, especially in the U.S., this kind of stew is more often made with lamb under a year old.
With Irish stew – unlike many other stews – the meat usually is not browned before being added to the pot, which eliminates a step many people aren’t that excited about. If you wish to brown the meat first, you will have more variety in texture and a deeper flavor, but the archetypical Irish lamb stew simply calls for the meat to be cooked slowly with the rest of the ingredients.
I prefer buying a whole lamb shoulder and cutting the meat into 1 1/2-inch cubes or pieces. If you buy precut stew meat, it will likely not be as fresh as if you buy the whole shoulder and cube it yourself. Also, you have better control over the size of the pieces. Precut stew meat might be cut into pieces too large tor too small.
The cubes of meat will and should have some fat in them. Remove larger pockets of excess fat from the shoulder and discard those.
Sometimes flour or cornstarch is added as a thickener, sometimes not. Some of the cooked potatoes can also get crushed up into the stew to help thicken it up. This recipe has no added thickener, but some of the potatoes are added at the beginning of the cooking process and those become fall-apart tender and help thicken the stew. Use the back of your spoon to crush some of these against the side of the pot at the end and stir them into the rest of the stew.
The rest of the potatoes and the other root vegetables will have had enough time in the pot to become very tender, but still hold their shape.
Often, beer is added to the stew in place of some or all of the water — I used a mix here, but you can use all water or all beer if you prefer.
I used a simple all-American lager, but you can use an Irish beer as well. Guinness is an unsurprisingly popular choice for some versions of this stew.
As everything cooks, you may need to add more liquid if it is evaporating too quickly, or if you like a soupier stew.
This stew is called Ballymaloe or Stobhach Gaelach in Ireland. Serve it with Irish soda bread (https://themom100.com/recipe/irish-soda-bread/) for dipping.
IRISH LAMB STEW
4 pounds lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 pounds after trimming) Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 2 pounds small waxy potatoes, scrubbed or peeled and cut into halves or quarters (1 1/2 to 2 inch pieces), divided 2 onions, quartered and sliced 2 12-ounce bottles or cans beer (see Note) 2 cups water, or more as needed 1/2 pound carrots, scrubbed or peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces 1/2 pound parsnips, scrubbed or peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces 1 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more to garnish
Dry the lamb and season generously with salt and pepper.
Add the lamb, half the potatoes, and the onions to a very large Dutch oven or heavy soup pot. Pour in the beer and add enough water to just cover the ingredients. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then lower the heat, partially cover the pot and keep at a gentle simmer for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Keep the pot partially covered. Add more water if the liquid seems to be evaporating too quickly; you want the stew to be saucy. Skim off any foam that accumulates on top.
After an hour, add the rest of the potatoes, the parsnips and the carrots. Return to a simmer. Continue to simmer for 30 more minutes, partially covered, stirring. Uncover the pot and continue to cook until the meat and all of the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes more. Use the back of a spoon to crush some of the more cooked potatoes against the side of the pot, and stir to blend them back in. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Stir in the cup of parsley.
Serve in bowls garnished with additional chopped parsley.
Note: Guinness beer is a traditional choice for Irish Lamb Stew, but you can use any beer you like. Steer clear of beers that are very hoppy or sweet.
Other St. Patrick’s Day Recipes:
Katie Workman writes regularly about food for The Associated Press. She has written two cookbooks focused on family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.” She blogs at http://www.themom100.com. She can be reached at Katie@themom100.com.
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Katie Workman, The Associated Press