Is it raining outside? Let a comforting bowl of traditional Irish Stew keep you warm as the rain hammers against the living room window. It’s great with homemade soda bread.
What is a Traditional Irish Stew?
A Traditional Irish stew is a stew with its origins in Ireland. It’s considered the national dish of Ireland. Modern interpretations use lamb or beef, with recipes abundant. However, some traditionalists disagree with many of these recipes. These arguments make no sense since ingredients such as potatoes weren’t introduced to Ireland until the late 1600s, but stewing dates back to ancient times in Ireland.
What Meat is in Irish Stew?
Traditionally, Irish Stew is made with lamb or mutton, but sometimes with beef or kid. Exact recipes vary throughout the ages and often change depending on availability. However, mutton was commonly the predominant choice of protein in less affluent times. The older meat was often cheaper and fattier, resulting in a stew with greater calories. Nowadays, we consider the high fat levels a negative, but increasing the calorific content of meals in times of need was deemed essential. However, the meat used in a modern Irish stew is most commonly lamb shoulder, as it is more readily available in UK supermarkets.
A Controversial Stew
Alongside the meat, root vegetables are crucial in what makes a traditional Irish stew. Potatoes, onions, and parsley are widely accepted as key components of the classic dish. However, some controversy still reigns. Lovers of tradition maintain that mutton neck should be the only meat used. The vegetables, too, come in for heavy criticism as common additions such as carrots, turnips, and pearl barley are said to spoil the flavour of a proper Irish Lamb stew.
Whatever the reality, a traditional lamb stew was initially cooked by peasants. So, including any vegetables that need using up and whatever meat you have on hand makes sense. Yet even I must admit that pearl barley fundamentally alters the texture of the stew and should be saved for another stew, one with a different name, maybe a lamb and barley stew, but definitely not a traditional Irish stew.
Cooking the Traditional Lamb Stew
Traditional Irish stew places all the ingredients in a pot and simmers everything for two hours. However, I find it essential to brown the meat before adding it to the pan. It adds a tremendous depth of flavour. Flour, too, is another addition that’s often missing from a traditional Irish stew. However, I’ve coated the lamb in seasoned flour before browning. This will help thicken the casserole along with the potatoes.
When preparing the vegetables, it’s essential to keep them quite large so they survive the long cooking process. I recommend cutting them at least 2cm in thickness. It would be best to use the starchiest potatoes you can find. Maris piper potatoes are a good option.
Once we’ve browned the meat, we’ll keep it at the bottom of the pan. Lay the vegetable on top, cover the veg with stock, and then cover the pan. Braise in the oven for 2 and a half hours or until tender.
Traditional Irish Stew
- 1 kg Boneless Lamb Shoulder Diced into 2cm Chunks.
- 2 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
- 2 Tbsp Plain Flour
- 2 Large White Onion Peeled and cut at least 2 cm thick.
- 3 Large Carrots cut at least 2 cm thick.
- 800 g Maris Piper Potatoes Peeled and cut at least 2 cm thick.
- 1 L Good Quality Stock Beef or Lamb
- A few Sprigs of Thyme
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 20 g Fesh Parsley Chopped, plus extra to finish.
- Preheat the oven to 160C or 140C Fan or 325F or Gas 3
- Heat half the oil in an ovenproof casserole dish over medium-high heat.
- Toss the lamb with plain flour and season with salt to taste. Shake off the excess flour. Fry the coated lamb in batches until well browned. Add all the lamb back to the pan.
- Cover with the carrots, onions, thyme, and bay leaves. Season well, then top with the potatoes.
- Pour the stock over the top until just covered. Bring to a simmer, then cover.
- Place the casserole dish into the centre of the oven and braise for 2 ½ hours or until the meat is tender.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. Finish with freshly chopped parsley.