We’re celebrating Easter Week here at Mystery Lovers Kitchen, and I realized that my family had few if any food traditions for the holiday. We always dyed eggs, and my grandmother would arrive from New York with bags full of exotic candy for baskets. Among these were little rabbits dipped halfway in dark chocolate. I adored them, and luckily for me no one told me they were made of marzipan, which is made of almonds—because if I’d known there were nuts involved I would have said, “oh, ick”, and refused to eat them. (I still have reservations about peanut butter, but that’s because I ate a peanut butter sandwich every day during my freshman year in high school—and it was not a particularly happy year.)
My father was born to Irish parents, so I grew up eating lamb. My husband, raised in the Midwest with lots of beef, has never warmed up to lamb, so I’ve been known to indulge myself in lamb chops when he’s out of town. But he is fond of a lamb stew recipe that I’ve been making for decades. I found it in a British cookbook which dates to 1974, but of course I’ve changed it over time. The recipe is very forgiving in terms of proportions—sometimes lamb chunks are hard to find (including in my town, which according to census records has a population of which 25% have Irish ancestry). And the Easter tie-in is that the new lambs are ready for market at this time.
Let me add that there is no one kind of Irish stew in Ireland. Some include carrots or cabbage, others add Guinness. Those aren’t bad (although in the hands of some cooks you end up with a watery mess of overcooked veggies and tough lamb chunks), but to my mind this is the classic recipe, with nothing more than lamb, potatoes and onions. It’s simple to make, if you don’t mind slicing (which is very easy with a Cuisinart and slicing blade), and you do have to allow time for it to cook in a medium oven—at least an hour, and an hour and a half is better.
This was the last dish we made in our cottage in Ireland last month (believe me, I know this recipe by heart), and I’ve made it since my return, since I can do it sitting down nursing my bum ankle (on the way to recover!).
CLASSIC IRISH STEW
3 lbs. stewing lamb (you can use less)
6 large potatoes (not baking potatoes, which are too soft)
2 yellow onions
2 Tblsp. finely chopped parsley
1 tsp. thyme (fresh if you have it)
1 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2-3 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 Tblsp. butter, softened
1 Tblsp. flour
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cut the lamb into cubes. If you buy it cubed, trim off the fat and chewy stuff (which my daughter calls “squidgely bits”). Peel the potatoes (oh, heck, you can skip that step—a little potato skin never hurt anyone) and onions and cut them into slices. A Cuisinart is great for this part, but use a thicker blade (4mm), because otherwise the sliced potatoes and onions will be reduced to mush before the lamb is tender).
Mix the parsley and thyme together (you can also chop all this together in the Cuisinart). Butter a casserole with a lid, or use cooking spray.
Arrange a layer of 1/3 of the potatoes on the bottom of the casserole. Cover with a layer of lamb, then a layer of onions. Season with the herbs, salt and pepper. Repeat to form 3 layers, seasoning between each layer and ending with the onions. Add the broth (add enough so that the contents of the casserole are nearly covered but not submerged—the contents will shrink a bit while cooking).
Cover the casserole and cook in a 350 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours until the lamb is tender.
Combine the butter and flour in a small bowl and evenly distribute dollops of the paste to the casserole. Cover again and ontinue cooking 5 minutes until the juices are thickened.
If you have any left over, this is even better the second day.