Traditional Irish stew or Stobhach Gaelach in Gaelic, was made with what was readily available on hand & cheap cuts of meat.Since in Ireland, primarily raised sheep were raised and root vegetables were easy and cheap to grow, the original version of this stew consisted of fatty cuts of lamb, onions & floury potatoes layered with salt & pepper.
Potatoes were the main food crop, prior to the potato famine. The result was a stew that was filling, simple & rustic.
This recipe will always mean a trip down memory lane for me. The first time I ever made Irish stew was as a teenager. I got hold of a recipe from a neighbor who was attending culinary school and I recall using rather generous quantities of peppercorns in the dish. So what I remember most of the meal was not how tasty it was but rather that it was a meal punctuated by a sneezing fit all around the table!
Years later, in Sydney as a graduate student, thanks to the fellow international students from Ireland, we found a favorite lunch pub-grub hangout, P.J's on King Street. Any excuse for us to venture into the CBD for a little time away from assignments & deadlines.
One of the guys O'Flaugherty decided that we should all pool our resources together and use the dormitory kitchen to fix a traditional Irish dinner, starring Irish stew of course. So he emailed his mum for the recipe, one we heavily embellished with stout and so it was we had our first authentic homemade Irish stew in dorms at Kensington colleges.
We also made an attempt to dish out a loaf of traditional Irish Soda Bread to go with but I think the stout must have kicked in by then because the bread that popped out of the oven was so hard, that as we exchanged nervous glances thinking that none of us were covered for dental work should our molars decide to give in! The bread met the trash can, the stew settled deliciously in our bellies.
Since then, I have continued to follow the old recipe but with some tweaks. I have fused some aspects of traditional boeuf bourguignon, such as the use of bacon lardons as well as browning the meat to seal in the juices. I also use fresh herbs as well as root vegetables such as carrots & parsnips that are not traditional to the dish.
I think you’ll agree that the additions makes for a stew that is refreshing and absolutely delicious!
Stobhach Gaelach | Traditional Irish Stew
3 to 3-1/2 lbs. boneless leg of lamb
1 large onion (to get about 1-1/2 cups sliced)
3 thick cut bacon slices
2-3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
3 tbsp. olive oil
3-4 sprigs rosemary (enough to get 1 tbsp. chopped leaves)
6-7 sprigs parsley (enough to get 2 tbsp. chopped leaves)
1 carton (1 liter) beef stock, 4 cups
1/3 cup pearl barley (optional, for thicker stew)
Parsnips - Peel & cut into 1/2" thick circles. Discard the top. If some pieces near the top are very large (like 2" in diameter) then halve
Carrots - Peel & cut into 1/2" thick circles. Discard the top.
Onion - Peel, discard the skin. Halve, then quarter. Slice into 1/4" thick quarter circle slices.
Leeks - Discard root tip. Halve and slice into 1/4" thick semi-circles. Use only the white & light green parts. Discard the thick dark green portion & leaves.
Garlic - Peel & chop cloves. Set aside.
Parsley - Discard the stalks. Finely chop the leaves and set aside.
Rosemary - Separate the leaves from the stalk and roughly chop with the knife or a herb cutter.
Baby red potatoes - Wash, cut away any 'eyes' or brown spots. Set aside.
Bacon - Cut into 3/4" lengths. Set aside.
Seasonings - Combine 1-1/2 tsp salt & 1/2 tsp black ground pepper in a bowl & set aside.
Lamb - Cut away the thick skin if attached, any excess fat or membranes & cut into 1-1/2" cubes.
Sprinkle all-purpose flour all over the meat and rub will the meat in thoroughly coated with the flour.
Method: Preheat the oven to 350 deg F.
Use a heavy bottom pan, casserole or a dutch oven.
On medium heat, add olive oil and heat for about a minute. Add the bacon and saute for about 5-7 minutes till crispy. Remove from the saute pan and set aside in a clean bowl.
Discard 2 tbs of the fat. Return the remaining fat & pan to the heat.
In a single layer, add the lamb chunks to the pan. Brown on each side, then flip over an brown on the other side. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch & may need to be cooked in 2 batches. Do not over crowd the pan.
Once golden brown, remove the meat & set aside while you cook the second batch of meat.
To the saute pan add 2 tbs olive oil. Add the sliced onions & leeks. Saute for about 2 minutes on medium heat till slightly softened.
Add the carrots & parsnips ans saute for another 2 minutes on medium heat. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
Return the pan to the heat. Add 1 cup of the beef stock and de-glaze the pan by dislodging all the yummy bits stuck to the bottom and sides of the pan. Remove from heat and place on a trivet, ready to begin layering the stew.
Layering the stew:
Cook's Note - If you want a thick stew then also add 1/3 cup pearl barley , 1 tbs at a time between each layer as is traditionally done in this recipe. In our family we like this stew the way it is so I have omitted the pearl barley.
Layer 1 : To the de-glazed pan juices, add 1/2 the onion-root vegetable mixture (not potatoes). Sprinkle, 1/2 tsp rosemary & 1/2 tsp parsley. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp salt-pepper mixture.
Layer 5: Add the remaining lamb & bacon. Sprinkle all the remaining herbs & salt-pepper mixture.
Layer 6 : Add the remaining baby red potatoes. Pour the beef stock over it all. With a large spatula or metal spoon, press down on the meat & potatoes so they are more or less covered by the stock. Cover with a tight fitting lid.
In the oven:
Place in the oven and bake for 2-1/2 hours straight.
At this point no opening oven door, no peeking or touching the stew. Leave it alone and no peeking!
When you take it our of the oven 2-1/2 hours later, the meat will be fork tender, the vegetables cooked and the aroma of lamb & rosemary will fill the air.
Traditionally, the stew is made the day before so the flavors mature. I have eaten this both ways and it is delicious either way. Make sure you serve it piping hot.