Irish stew is a popular addition to the dinner table for St. Patrick’s Day, but you can also enjoy this hearty dish over the Christmas season. When I lived in England, traditional Irish stew was always on the menu at the local pubs and taverns and was commonly found at the Sunday dinner table over the holidays. This dish is easy to make and is cooked slowly on the stovetop or in a Crockpot to bring out the flavor of the meat, potatoes and other vegetables. If you want to make a hearty stew this holiday season, here are some tips for making it the traditional way:
1. Use mutton or lamb, not beef. While many American pubs and eateries make Irish stew using choice cuts of beef, tradition dictates the use of lamb or mutton because it’s much more tender. Lamb and mutton will also absorb the flavors during the simmering process, and will create the most flavorful stock.
2. Add turnips to the mix. Turnips are readily available in the British Isles and in Ireland, but can be hard to find in the United States. Head to the local farmers market to seek out this essential ingredient to add some texture to your stew. Turnips, in addition to the potatoes, celery, carrots and onions will bring out the flavor of the meat and help to create a heartier dish.
3. Cook the stew in a Dutch oven. Some people like to make Irish stew in a Crockpot to save space and oven time, but making the stew in a Dutch oven will help to seal in all of the juices and make the meat and vegetables very tender. The Dutch oven is simply known as a casserole dish in British English, but the American version of a casserole dish is usually much more shallow and usually used for baking. You need to cook this in a thick cast iron Dutch oven for best results.
4. Sandwich the meat between layers of vegetables. One of the critical steps to making Irish stew is to layer the vegetables with the meat before filling the Dutch oven (or casserole dish) with stock or water, depending on the recipe you use. You need to start with a layer of potatoes, turnips, carrots and onions so that the vegetables can cook first. The middle layer should consist of pieces of meat, followed by salt, pepper and any other seasonings. Continue layering in this order until all of the ingredients are used.
5. Use Guinness Stout after sauteing the meat. If you want the lamb or mutton to be even more flavorful, season it with some salt and brown it in oil before covering it with flour. Sauté the meat with some of the vegetables very briefly, then add Guinness to mix. This will help to tenderize the meat and bring out more of its natural flavor before it is immersed in the stew pot.
Traditional Irish Stew Recipe for Holiday Season
Yields 6 hearty servings
Irish Stew Ingredients
3 pounds lamb or mutton, cubed
½ cup flour
3 large Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium yellow onions, diced
1 -2 large turnips, cubed
6 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bunch each fresh rosemary, thyme and parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 quarts beef stock
12 ounces Guinness Stout
1 cup barley
2 teaspoons corn starch
Oil for cooking
To make traditional Irish stew:
1. Simmer the barley in 3 cups of beef stock to soften it and bring out its natural flavors. Set aside.
2. Season the meat with salt and brown it lightly in oil. Sprinkle with flour, then sauté with the garlic, carrots and celery in a pan until slightly soft. Add the Guinness Stout, then add the potatoes and cook for 1-2 minutes on high heat.
3. Prepare the stew in the Dutch oven by layering the potatoes, turnips and other veggies on the bottom, followed by the meat, rosemary, thyme and parsley. Continue layering until all ingredients are used.
4. Pour barley and stock over the meat and vegetables, then simmer over low heat for 2 hours and 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are completely cooked and the meat is tender.
5. Remove from heat, and gently stir in the parsley and cornstarch. Cook again on very low heat for 3 to 5 minutes until the sauce thickens.