As an Irish-American, I grew up with Irish Stew as an integral part of my family's diet. Unlike a true Irish Stew, ours was made with beef instead of lamb or mutton. But what our stew lacked in authentic ingredients, it compensated for with the traditional Irish cooking style, and that means that no recipe was involved. Meat (sometimes bone-in, sometimes not) was tossed into a pot with onions, potatoes and carrots and left to simmer for hours. Heavenly.
Darina Allen, a true celebrity chef over in Ireland and the author of many must-have Irish cookbooks, has written a great article on the history of Irish Stew. In it, she talks about the carrot vs. no-carrot issue (Nothern Irish consider it a sacrilege to include carrots), different ways to thicken the stew (pearl barley, roux or simply setting some thinly sliced potatoes in the bottom of the pot), and the importance of using bone-in meat for making the stew.
The following recipe is from Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery School.
Ballymaloe Irish Stew
2½ - 3 lbs lamb chops (gigot or rack chops) not less than 1" thick
8 medium or 12 baby carrots
8 medium or 12 baby onions
8 -12 potatoes, or more if you like
salt and freshly ground pepper
1¼-1½ pints stock (lamb stock if possible) or water
1 sprig of thyme
1 tbs plus 1 tsp roux, optional (recipe below)
For the Garnish:
1 tbs plus 1 tsp freshly chopped parsley
1 tbs plus 1 tsp freshly chopped chives
For the Roux:
4 ozs (1/2 stick) butter
3/4 cup flour
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cut the chops in half and trim off some of the excess fat. Set aside. Render down the fat on a low heat in a large, heavy pan; discard the rendered down pieces.
Peel the onions and scrape or thinly peel the carrots (if they are young you could leave some of the green stalk on the onion and carrot). Cut the carrots into large chunks, or if they are small leave them whole. If the onions are large, cut them into quarters through the root, if they are small they are best left whole.
Toss the meat in the hot fat on the pan until it is slightly brown. Transfer the meat into a casserole, then quickly toss the onions and carrots in the fat. Build the meat, carrots and onions up in layers in the casserole, carefully season each layer with freshly ground pepper and salt.
Turn the heat to high and deglaze the pan with lamb stock and pour into the casserole. Peel the potatoes and lay them on top of the casserole, so they will steam while the stew cooks. Season the potatoes. Add a sprig of thyme, bring to the boil on top of the stove and cover.
Transfer to a moderate oven or allow to simmer on top of the stove until the stew is cooked, 1-1½ hours approx, depending on whether the stew is being made with lamb or hogget.When the stew is cooked, pour off the cooking liquid, de-grease and reheat in another saucepan. Slightly thicken by whisking in a little roux if you like.
Check seasoning, then add chopped parsley and chives. Pour over the meat and vegetables. Bring the stew back up to boiling point and serve from the pot or in a large pottery dish.
To make the Roux:
Melt the butter in a small pan and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred.
May your day be touched by a bit of Irish luck,
Brightened by a song in your heart,
And warmed by the smiles of the people you love.