Although St. Patrick's Day is most often associated with corned beef and cabbage, if we were in Ireland, dinner would be a good lamb stew. Corned beef is an American dish of 19th-century Irish immigrants, an inexpensive alternative to fresh meat.
The traditional stew calls for lamb (sometimes beef), onions, potatoes, carrots, parsley and thyme. Some cooks add a few turnips, parsnips and rutabagas, too. Older recipes call for mutton — meat from a sheep at least 2 years old — but it is hard to find in our region and, frankly, the flavor can be gamy. Pastured young lamb from our local farmers is a much tastier choice.
As with most stew recipes, it's a good idea to first brown the meat for a richer flavor; slow cooking over very low heat yields fork-tender meat and a robust gravy. It's best to make the stew a day or two ahead to allow the flavors to marry; it also helps with degreasing the pot, removing any of the excess fat that will rise to the top.
Some Irish cooks prefer a brothy stew, while others like to thicken the gravy by breaking up the floury potatoes as they fall apart or by tossing in a handful of barley at the start. Darina Allen, founding chef of the renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Ireland, layers the meat and vegetables into the pot, then places the potatoes on top so that they steam and hold their shape while the rest of the ingredients simmer away beneath. A nice idea, indeed. I like to serve the stew with the cooked potatoes smashed off to the side of the bowl and sprinkled with a few herbs.
No matter how you choose to make this dish, be sure to serve it with plenty of brown bread to sop up all the goodness in the bowl.
St. Patrick's Day Lamb Stew
Serves 4 to 6.
This is easily expanded for a bigger group, and leftovers freeze nicely. Do try to make it a day ahead so the flavors marry. Here the potatoes are cooked on top of the meat and vegetables, and are meant to be served off to the side of each bowl. From Beth Dooley.
• 1 1/2 to 2 lb. lamb shoulder or thick chops cut into 1 1/2-in. pieces
• Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
• 1 lb. onions (about 3 medium) diced
• 2 to 3 large carrots, cut into 1-in. pieces
• 1 small turnip, cut into 1-in. pieces
• 1/2 c. Irish stout
• 2 to 3 c. chicken or vegetable stock
• 1 large sprig thyme
• 1/4 c. chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
• 1 1/2 to 2 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-in. pieces
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Season the lamb with the salt and pepper. In a large, heavy-bottom pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brown the meat on all sides. Remove the meat and set aside. Add the onions, carrots and turnip to the pot. Lightly season with salt and pepper and cook until lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Add the stout and stir, scraping up any of the browned bits that have stuck to the bottom. Return the meat to the pot and then add enough stock to cover the ingredients and bring to a simmer. Add the thyme and parsley, then layer the potatoes on top (they do not have to be completely submerged). Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the meat is very tender, about 60 to 75 minutes.
Ladle the stew into bowls with the meat and vegetables on one side and the potatoes on the other; smash the potatoes on the side of the bowl. Garnish with more parsley.
Beth Dooley is the author of "The Perennial Kitchen." Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.