Irish stew is a wonderful way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but this hearty and tasty stew is a great and comforting meal any day.
Stew On This Awhile
Irish stew, like many traditional dishes, developed out of what was most readily available. While lamb is tender and succulent, no farmer would be willing to create dinner out of a lamb that could readily supply wool and milk for years. Mutton, on the other hand, needs a bit of cooking to make it tender and so, naturally, a stew was called for. If you aren't a big fan of lamb, any stewing meat will suffice, but for a traditional tasting stew I recommend using lamb.
Irish stew was originally thickened with parsnips. Potatoes didn't make it to Ireland until they were brought back from the New World. Before the arrival of the potato, parsnips were the go-to vegetable to thicken stews and soups because they are very starchy. Once the potato was introduced to Ireland, it became the main food crop and found its way into Irish stew. Any root vegetable that you happen to have handy can also be added to your Irish stew, including turnips and carrots.
Some stew recipes call for browning the meat as a first step, but this is usually not necessary for an Irish stew. I'm not going to tell you not to brown the lamb before starting your stew but if you are short on time or just don't feel like it, browning is a step you can skip.
- 1 ½ pounds of lean, boneless, lamb shoulder or shanks
- 3 pints of water or lamb stock (if you have it)
- 1 small onion, peeled but not sliced, stuck with two cloves
1 sachet, which is:
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 clove of garlic
- 4 whole peppercorns
- 6 parsley stems
- ¼ teaspoon of thyme
- Wrapped in a piece of cheese cloth and tied tightly
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 leek, sliced thinly, only the white part
- 3 large potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 parsnip, peeled and diced
- 2 tablespoon of fresh parsley, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cut the lamb into 1-inch cubes.
- Bring the water, or stock if you are using stock, to a boil in a large stockpot.
- Add the lamb.
- Let the liquid come to a boil again and then reduce it to a simmer.
- Skim off any scum that accumulates at the top.
- Add the onion with the cloves and the sachet.
- Add a pinch of salt and let simmer for an hour.
- After one hour of simmering, add the chopped onion, leek, and potatoes.
- Simmer until the meat is tender and the potatoes are cooked.
- Remove the sachet and the onion with the cloves.
- Taste for salt and pepper.
- Garnish each bowl of stew with a sprinkling of chopped parsley.
Notes and Tips
- If you like a thicker stew, you can try adding some barley. About a cup of barley will add extra body and a rich flavor.
- To add a nice texture to the meat and another layer of flavor, you can brown your lamb cubes. To do this, just add a tablespoon or two of olive oil or vegetable oil to your stockpot and place it over a medium heat. Once the oil is hot, toss your lamb cubes into the pot and brown each side of the meat. Then add the water or stock and proceed with the recipe as above.
- This stew goes best with a thick piece of hardy, crusty bread.
- Irish stew is not to be confused with mulligan stew, which is a hobo recipe. Mulligan stew is a generic stew of whatever happens to be handy. Although mulligan stew has an Irish name, it is an American dish.