The warmer days of spring are just around the corner but warm spring days do not necessarily promise warm spring nights. The spring cold spells require the same nutritious hot meals that eased our way through winter, and one of the most favored – and easy – hot meals is a filling, warming, healthy stew.
Most people when they contemplate the taste appeal of a hearty stew name Irish stew as the de facto gold standard. And rightly so. The traditional stew from across the pond is full of satisfying tastes, healthy ingredients, and versatile enough that every cook can concoct his or her own version and name the result after the family or themselves.
Originally an Irish stew was made with very few ingredients: mutton, an older sheep with tougher and fattier meat. Today, however, lamb shoulder seems to be the popular cut. The original stew was also made without potatoes, since this ingredient was not grown in Ireland at the time, but it held carrots, probably onions, and was thickened with flour. Once available, the Irish stew also included potatoes and was thickened as it simmered with the starch of the potatoes.
The stew became a conglomerate of available food sources, as people added easily available vegetables. Parsnips, carrots. peas, turnips, leeks or celery generally appear, and even beer (usually Guinness, for its bold flavor) was added in some versions.
The traditional concoction was made the day before and left on ice overnight, since it is even better reheated. This gives the flavors time to blend together, producing a deeper, fuller, taste.
Accompany your meal with a roll or slice of thick bread for buttering or dipping, and some pickles and sauerkraut to complement the earthy and bold flavors of the lamb.
What mainly sets the Irish stew apart from other stews is that it is, in origin, made with very few ingredients, usually the triad of lamb, potatoes and carrots. Nowadays, the recipes often have many more ingredients, but the true base is a humble and simple one-pot meal.
Traditional Irish Stew Using Instant Pot
Usually made with lamb, but beef is good, too
2 tbls cooking oil
1 ½ lbs diced lamb or beef stewing meat
salt & black pepper to taste
1 medium yellow onion diced (about 1 cup)
3 medium sticks celery sliced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 (11 or 12-oz) bottle Guinness beer
1 cup lamb or beef stock
1 lb. potatoes peeled and cut into chunks (may leave skin on but scrub clean)
3 medium carrots peeled and cut into chunks
1 to 2 tbls. cornstarch mixed with 1 tbls. cold water, for thickening
Cooking oil for the pot (You will want a big and deep pot)
Stir cooking oil to cover the bottom of your pot or set your Instant Pot to sauté. Heat the oil, then brown the meat in 2-3 batches, seasoning as it cooks. When browned, remove from pot and set aside on a plate.
For the gravy, add onions, celery and garlic to the pot and bring to a simmer, cooking until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook for 1 more minute. Pour the Guinness over the meat, scratching any browned bits off the bottom of the pot.
Simmer on sauté setting until the beer has reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Then switch off the Instant Pot and stir in beef or lamb broth, potatoes, carrots and browned meat. Close lid and set valve to “sealing”. Press “stew” button.
When the pot indicates it’s done with cooking, do a natural pressure release for 15-20 minutes (This just requires that you unplug your pot and leave it alone. Then manually release any remaining pressure and open the lid.)
To thicken the stew, set the Pot to sauté and stir in the cornstarch slurry. Simmer until thickened. Or you can place 1 cup of stew in a blender, blend, and stir it back in.
Recipe does not require an Instant Pot. A large, deep cooking pot will do. You will want to adjust recipe accordingly.
Makes four to six bowls or more depending on bowl size.
You can use finely sliced leeks in place of the celery if you prefer.
For potatoes, use a thick potato like Yukon Gold that will keep its shape while stewing. Starchy potatoes like the Russet more easily get mushy in the stew.
While Guinness is a beer associated with the Irish, you may use any favorite beer you like, preferably one with a strong taste like the Guinness.
Irish Stew with Lamb, the Modern Classic
This recipe will serve 12
1/2 lb thick-sliced bacon, diced
6 lbs boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil, or as needed
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
4 cups store-bought or homemade beef stock
2 teaspoons sugar
4 cups chopped carrots (1-inch pieces)
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 lbs potatoes, peeled, quartered, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup hearty beer (optional)
Chopped parsley, for garnish
In a large frying pan, sauté the bacon. Drain the fat and reserve both the bacon and the fat. In a large mixing bowl, place the lamb, salt, pepper, and flour. Toss to coat the meat evenly.
Without cleaning, reheat the frying pan you used to fry the bacon. In batches, brown the lamb in the reserved bacon fat. If you run out of fat, use some of the vegetable oil.
Transfer the browned meat to a 10-quart stovetop casserole, leaving about 1/4 cup of fat in the frying pan.
Add the garlic and the chopped yellow onion to the pan and sauté until the onion begins to color a bit.
Add the garlic-onion mixture to the casserole, along with the reserved bacon pieces, beef stock, and sugar.
Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, or until the lamb is tender.
Add the carrots, the sliced onions, potatoes, thyme, bay leaf, the beer (if using) and wine to the pot and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Taste test and add salt and pepper as needed. Top with the parsley garnish before serving and accompany with a hearty bread.