Suzi and I are on our last weekend of Spring Break out in the Southwest. I’m gambling in advance as I write this [April 5] that spring has not yet arrived in the East. If it is still chilly, you might delight with a good stew. I have one today, one tomorrow. They are worlds apart.
Today’s stew is from Darina Allen, founder of the great Ballymaloe cooking school in Ireland. [Preview: tomorrow we visit Mexico!] This dish is from her latest cookbook Simply Delicious, a collection of her very first published books in the 1980s.
There is no one version of this Irish classic, made of course with lamb. The recipe changes as you go from one region to another. In Cork, you must have carrots. In Ulster in the north, no carrots, which is a tad odd because they are Protestants in the north with orange as their color. Ah, well, understand the Irish is quite impossible.
I’m an O’Rourke. I should know.
A last note from Darina. You can add pearl barley to the dish, too. If you do, add extra stock, about 2 cups. The barley will become plump and flavorful.
Ballymaloe Irish Stew
Yield: serves 4-6
For the stew:
- 3 pounds center-cut lamb leg steaks, no less than 1 inch thick
- 8 medium or 12 pearl onions, peeled
- 12 baby carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 1 to 2 tablespoons dry pearl barley (optional)
- 3½ to 4¼ cups lamb stock or water (homemade stock appears on page 81 of Darina’s Comfort Food book)
- 8 to 12 large potatoes, or more if desired, peeled
- 1 thyme sprig
- 1 tablespoon Roux (see below optional)
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the roux:
- ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter
- ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, or ½ cup cornstarch and ⅓ cup rice flour for a gluten-free roux
Preheat the oven to 350°F, if you plan to finish cooking the stew in the oven.
Cut the lamb steaks in half and trim off some of the excess fat. Set aside. In a heavy skillet, render the lamb fat over gentle heat (discard the rendered-down pieces).
Toss the meat in the hot fat in the pan until it is slightly brown, then transfer to a Dutch oven. Quickly toss the onions and carrots in the fat, and the pearl barley if using. Build up the meat, carrots, and onions (plus pearl barley if using) in layers in the pot, carefully seasoning each layer with freshly ground pepper and salt Deglaze the skillet with the lamb stock or water, bring to a boil, and pour into the pot. Lay the potatoes on top of the stew (they will steam while the stew cooks). Season the potatoes, add the thyme, and bring to a boil on the stovetop. Cover with a wax paper lid and the pot lid. Transfer to the oven or let simmer on the stovetop until the lamb is tender, about 1½ hours.
Make the roux: In a saucepan, melt the butter and cook the all-purpose flour or cornstarch and rice flour in it for 2 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. Roux can be stored and used as required or it can be prepared on the spot. It will keep for at least 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
When the stew is cooked, pour off the cooking liquid, degrease, and reheat in another saucepan. Thicken slightly by whisking in the tablespoon of roux. Check the seasoning, then add half the freshly chopped parsley and chives. Pour over the meat and vegetables. Bring the stew back up to a boil and serve from the pot or in a large ceramic dish sprinkled with the remaining chopped herbs. Serve in deep plates with lots of good Irish butter.
Source: Darina Allen Simply Delicious [Kyle, 2018]