Celebrating the Luck of the Irish with a hearty lamb stew

Of Irish decent on both my mom’s and dad’s sides, I always write with gusto my March food or wine article. For St. Patrick’s Days’ past, I’ve written about what wines pair with corned beef – Rosé and Pinot Noir; what’s traditionally eaten in Ireland on their Patron Saint’s feast day – roast chicken; the best colcannon; Irish breakfast with locally sourced ingredients; my mom’s Irish soda bread; and what makes my fish cake recipe the all-time best – hint, they include mashed potatoes. (written for the Los Altos Town Crier)

When this year’s article was looming, I searched my mind for something new to write. It was perhaps with a little luck of the Irish that I thought of lamb stew. Comforting and hearty, stew makes for a splendid Sunday supper. I mean, why limit your celebration of all things Irish to a single day this month? Making Irish stew for dinner on a Sunday will kick your week off with a nourishing start. 

Irish or not, I believe we can all find comforting commonality in lamb stew. The recipe’s origins are of meagerness. Created by families making the most of what they had available, the stew comes from a style of cooking often referred to as peasant food. Every culture has dishes that fall into this category. A friend, Liz, recently shared her mom’s Lebanese recipe for lentils and rice, called mujadara. It is a deeply satisfying meal that also has origins in resourcefulness. 

All my thinking about wholesome foods created out of scarcity, had me considering the concept of the Irish being lucky. The nation, like others, has seen its share of strife and turmoil. The landscape can be a brutal one with harsh terrain and weather that is cruel at times. What’s more, Ireland and its people have been both the targets and the perpetrators of injustices and pain. Luck isn’t a notion that immediately comes to mind given these realities. 

Researching the colloquialism, I learned it was coined during California’s Gold Rush to minimize the hard work of Irish immigrants finding gold deposits. Their fortunes were attributed to luck rather than skill and diligence. Nowadays “luck of the Irish” is more a token term than anything else, with casinos and movie makers using the phrase as they see fit, but I think there is something telling about the history. Afterall, persistence seems to be the engine of luck.  

Irish Stew

Growing up, my parents raised and harvested their own lamb. True to her prudent upbringing, my mom made use of every cut of meat. Stew, with its low and slow cooking method, works wonders on tougher pieces. 

When I make it, I love how it fills our home with enticing fragrances. Adding a roux at the end ensures the stew comes tableside with a silky sauce. Also tasty served atop mashed potatoes (what isn’t?), we eat ours with cooked-in-the-stew, whole potatoes. My dad tells stories of how his father ensured they had potatoes through Ireland’s long winters by burying their harvest under a protective layer of hay – creating a cellar of sorts for the spuds. When I serve this meal to my own children, I bring these stories to the table. Knowing that resourcefulness can create a sense of abundance and that hard work can be a basis for caring for one another, is as relevant a lesson now as it always has been.  

For a wine, I recommend serving a red Bordeaux. I like 2016 Chateau Prieure de Blaignan ($20). The medium bodied wine’s cherry, red berry and herbal attributes are wonderful beside the earthy stew.

Invite friends. Put on The Kilkennys, Christy Moore, Danŭ or Sinéad O’Connor. Then eat heartily, toast one another loudly and enjoy a raucous craic.

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3 pounds lamb meat (I like leg or loin chops, or shoulder) cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
  • 8 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 8 waxy potatoes, such as red or fingerling, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 cups lamb stock (substitute with beef, chicken or vegetable stock)
  • Sea salt 
  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives 

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat on the stovetop. Add teaspoon of oil, only a small amount of oil is needed as the lamb will render fat. Once oil is simmering, add several pieces of lamb cubes, being sure not to over-crowd the pot. 

When browned on all sides, remove and set aside. Continue this process until all lamb is browned. Remove the final pieces and deglaze the pot with a splash of broth, gently scraping with a wooden spoon. 

Next create layers of the stew by adding lamb back into pot, then carrots, onions and potatoes then more lamb, etc. Season each layer of vegetables with salt. When all meat, and vegetables are in pot, add remaining broth and toss in sprigs of thyme. At first, broth may not fully cover stew mixture, but as cooking continues all will be covered. 

Bring to a simmer, cover and cook slowly and lowly for an hour to an hour and a half. When meat is tender and vegetables are fully cooked, you can finish the stew. Use a fork to mix butter and flour together, making a roux. Add roux, which will thicken the stew slightly. Then add parsley and chives, reserving a small amount of each to sprinkle atop bowls when serving. Taste for seasoning and adjust with more salt if needed. 


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