I know a lot of families tuck into corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day—mine has, plenty of times. There is another way, though—maybe a better way—to get in the spirit, and that’s with Irish stew. I find it kind of amusing that in Ireland, they consider it merely lamb stew (like the Swiss don’t know from “Swiss cheese”). Maybe merely isn’t the right word, though, for something so good.
Irish stew is an exceedingly simple dish, and differs from many braises in a couple of important ways. As with a blanquette, the meat isn’t browned at the start. This contributes to the proper subtle result, and, wow, what a break for the cook! Another distinction is the relatively large amount of liquid. No need for stock, either—water is the liquid of choice. The resulting broth, deeply imbued with the essence of lamb and the other ingredients, is almost counterintuitively delicious.
Of course, as with most traditional dishes there is inherent disagreement. Carrots? My recipe is modeled after my grandmother’s, and she included carrots, so: Yes. But some advocate just lamb, potatoes, onion. Herbs other than parsley? You do see thyme, as in mine—I like its slight spiciness with lamb—though the thyme-averse could def use parsley only. Are turnips even a remote possibility? Nothing against them, but not in my Irish stew.
More traditional recipes use lamb shoulder, but I find that boneless leg meat is best. It’s much leaner than shoulder, which supports the aforementioned subtlety, and has a minerally richness that makes a fantastic broth. For this recipe, I used the Australian boneless leg dependably available at Costco, and the result was maybe the best ever. Lamb stew meat from your local Middle Eastern market works well, too.
Very important note: Where there’s Irish stew, there oughta be soda bread. I published my whole-wheat-and-oats recipe last year in Taste of Orange County, which you can read by clicking here. And later this week, I’ll have a raisin-rich favorite from Orange Coast Senior Editor Chris Christensen.
Priscilla’s Irish Stew
2 to 2-1/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 pound carrots, peeled, thickly sliced diagonally
1 large onion, sliced ¼-inch thick
1 bunch thyme
2 pounds potatoes (slightly more if peeling), thickly sliced
Fresh chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In large Dutch oven, layer half of meat, carrots, onion, and thyme sprigs. Generously salt and pepper, add half of potatoes. Salt and pepper potato layer. Add second layer in same order (including generous salt and pepper), ending with potatoes and seasoning.
Add water to barely cover and bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, stirring or shaking pot carefully from time to time to distribute heat evenly.
Cover pot and bake in preheated oven 2-1/2 to 3 hours, checking water level occasionally. Stew should cook at gentle simmer—lower heat to 300 degrees if boiling vigorously. Check seasoning at end of cooking.
To serve, remove thyme stems and top with chopped parsley.