Most Americans think of stew as having a thick gravy base. But traditional Irish stew is more broth-like and began as a hearty peasant dish made with what were the most readily available ingredients. The primary sources of sustenance for the Irish were root vegetables and sheep. Prior to the potato famine, potatoes were the main food crop. Sheep provided wool for warm clothing, milk for drinking and cheese making, and eventually meat.
As the Irish immigrated to the United States and brought with them their hearty food traditions, these dishes evolved to include various local offerings.
The following stew recipe is a typical peasant version—simple to prepare with basic root vegetables that are stewed slowly with tougher cuts of meat in a simple stock. This recipe was a staple in the Irish kitchen of one of my childhood friends, and it has become a regular with my family. The starch from the potatoes provides a bit of thickening power, but the absence of a thick gravy makes this filling meal surprisingly light and quite easy to prepare.
Yield: approximately 6 servings
- 2 pounds boneless lamb for stew (may substitute beef, i.e., boneless chuck roast)
- 2 large onions, peeled, thickly chopped
- 2 pounds potatoes, peeled if desired and cut into big chunks (small new potatoes are an excellent option)
- 2 stalks celery, chopped, leaves included
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 1 turnip, diced
- 1 teaspoon each kosher salt and pepper
- 1½ cups chicken broth
- I bay leaf
- Chopped flat leaf parsley
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Cut lamb or beef into 1-inch cubes, removing large pieces of fat. Layer vegetables and meat in a 2 1/2 quart, lightly greased casserole or Dutch oven, beginning and ending with vegetables. (See comments above for slow cooker adaptation.) Add some of the salt and pepper to each layer. Add the chicken broth and bay leaf; cover tightly.
Bake at 325 degrees for 2 hours. Stir and sprinkle with parsley. Remove bay leaf and check for seasoning before serving. Makes 4-6 servings.
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