Many purists consider carrot in Irish stew a “no-good hanger-on.” This goes for adding celery, beef, turnips and barley, too. However I’m rather partial to adding carrots. Unfortunately, most North Americans disdain mutton. They find the flavor too strong. Shoulder chops, cut and cubed, or stewing lamb will suffice. I like to find a flavorful lamb neck. Ask at your local butcher’s.
Depending on ratio of bone and fat to meat, you will need two to three pounds of lamb. Trim the excess fat from the meat. Roughly chop three to four medium onions and two large carrots. Wash and peel (if using Idaho or other thick-skinned variety) two pounds of potatoes and slice into quarter-inch rounds.
In a deep casserole or Dutch oven, add a bit of fat or oil and brown the lamb, in batches, removing each batch pot into a bowl. (Make sure lamb chunks don’t touch or they will steam rather than brown). When the stew is browned, line the bottom of the pot with lamb chunks. Then layer potatoes, then onions, then carrots over the lamb. Repeat the layering until all ingredients are used. Season with salt, pepper, a handful of chopped parsley, and two or three sprigs (or one teaspoon dried) thyme. Pour 20 oz. or nearly to cover, chicken stock or veal stock, or water over stew.
Bring stew to boil on top of stove. Skim off foam. Transfer to 325-degree oven and cook for two hours, or until the meat is tender. Check part way through cooking and add more stock if necessary. Irish stew is best made the day before serving. Skim of any congealed fat.
I suggest fixing an Irish stew and soda bread (easy to make, and requires no yeast) next St. Patrick’s Day. Get out the fiddle. Pick up a few Guinness and a bottle of Irish whiskey. Invite a few folks to drop by. Shuck a dozen or more briny bi-valves (oysters and Guinness are a saintly match) and round out the festivities with a wedge of Dubliner Cheddar — for an evening of good fun. Here’s to St. Patrick. God bless him!
— by Julie Pegg