I have typically made up my own Irish stew version for St. Patrick's Day, but this year I decided to follow a recipe from my bought-in-Ireland Irish cookbook (brilliant idea, right?). And I mostly stuck to it. What I love about this recipe is that it is so simple and you actually end up with a stew--thick, rich gravy in the bottom of the pan that is absolutely wonderful to mop up with fresh soda bread. YUM!
[[Funny/ironic side story about the meat used in my Irish stews. It's venison, not lamb or beef which would be more traditional. One year when we celebrated St. Patrick's Day with our small group from church we read the St. Patrick's Breastplate prayer as a prelude to our meal together. One story goes that the prayer was chanted for protection against druids who were laying in ambush for Patrick and his followers. Legend has it that God answered this prayer by making Patrick and Co. appear as deer to the druids and they were able to pass by unharmed.
Yep. Then after we read the prayer we ate Irish stew with venison.]]
Anyhow, this year I followed an actual Irish recipe (except I still used venison of course!). You basically brown your meat in some butter or oil then layer onions and carrots on top followed by thickly-sliced potatoes. Add turnips if you like. Pour broth over the whole and stew for two hours on the stove or in the oven.
Making this in my cast-iron skillet meant it was a one pot deal. Nice! I'll go ahead and post a recipe since I made a few (just a few!) changes. I used less meat and added some flour when it was browned to make sure I had a nice, thick gravy in the bottom of the pan. I also pre-sauteed the onions the second time I made this which I thought added a nice depth of flavor.
Traditional Irish Stew
(adapted from "The Irish Heritage Cookbook" by Margaret M. Johnson)
1 lb. lamb, beef or venison cut in about 1-inch chunks
2 - 4 carrots thickly sliced (I like the diagonal look)
2 onions, sliced
2 - 3 large baking potatoes, peeled, halved, and thickly sliced
Thyme, salt, and pepper to season
1 cup water or broth
Butter (as much as you need!)
2 - 3 TBSP flour
My method: Pre-heat oven to 300F. If you want to caramelize (or saute until lightly golden) your onions, do this first in a few TBSP of butter. Remove from the skillet when they are done to your likeness and add the meat into the same skillet. Add more butter if necessary. Sizzle and stir until browned and add the flour. Work the flour into the meat and bit and remove from heat. Toss in a bit of your chopped or dried thyme. Layer on the onions and carrots (and turnips if using) and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a few tsp chopped, fresh thyme. Spread Potatoes on top and sprinkle again with salt, pepper, and thyme. Pour your water or broth over all. I used some vegetable bouillon broth with a generous splash of balsamic vinegar in it for a little depth (I think a nice, dark beer would be fantastic in place of the broth!). Cover, and return to low heat for two hours. Or, do as I did and bake it in the oven for the same amount of time. Check it after an hour or so to see if it needs any more liquid. The original recipe called for 1 1/2 cups, but I found just one cup to be satisfactory. When the potatoes and carrots are cooked to your likeness and the meat is tender, uncover the stew and brown the potatoes under the broiler. Garnish with fresh parsley or thyme. Serve it up soon with thick slices of fresh soda bread--baked along with or right after the stew! I also served mine with some delicious cabbage/spinach saute ("recipe" to follow in another post). My mouth is actually watering as I write this. And we've got more venison chunks in the freezer, so there's no reason not to make it again soon. Wonderful recipe for the winter repertoire!