Do you have a bit of the Irish in ya? I do; but never really paid much attention to the upcoming St. Patrick's Day holiday. St. Patrick's Day was first celebrated in America in Boston, Massachusetts in 1737, and is now celebrated nationwide as an opportunity to wear green and consume green libations. The celebration in Ireland is more of a religious matter, whereas in the U.S., it is a festive occasion. The wearing o' the green is a symbol of Ireland's lush green farmlands.
I thought I'd make some Irish Stew this year; however found myself inundated with a multitude of variations for the classic recipe. The ingredients are simple, but the result is a hearty dish which the Irish have enjoyed for generations
Irish stew is a filling, flavorful peasant dish made with the cheapest, most readily-available ingredients. The Irish raised primarily sheep and root crops for subsistence. The sheep provided wool for warm clothing, milk for drinking and making cheese, and eventually food. Potatoes were the main food crop, prior to the potato famine. Irish stew is traditionally made of lamb or mutton (less tender sheep over two years of age), potatoes, onions, and parsley.
When the Irish people began immigrating to the United States, fleeing from the ravages of starvation caused by the potato famine, they naturally brought along their wonderful hearty food traditions. The stew evolved and adapted to include the local offerings. Sheep were not as plentiful in America, so other types of meat were often substituted. When made in the traditional manner, the result is very thick and hearty, not thin like soup. This traditional peasant dish has evolved from a basic lamb, potato, and onion stew to more elaborate versions approaching gourmet status. Some versions may have different meat substituted for lamb or mutton.
Here is a classic Irish stew recipe as well as a very different one made with beef and guinness. As with any recipe, feel free to modify it to meet the needs and tastes of your own family.
Classic Irish Stew - Crockpot Style
Let your crockpot do the work on this hearty Irish stew made with lamb and vegetables. This recipe may easily be converted to oven or stove-top methods.
Prep Time: 15 minutes; Cook Time: 10 hours
•2 pounds boneless lamb cubed, browned, and drained
•2 teaspoons salt
•1/4 teaspoon pepper
•2 cups water
•1 small bay leaf
•2 medium carrots, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch slices
•2 small onions, thinly sliced
•4 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
•1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca (optional - see Note)
•10 ounces frozen peas
Sprinkle browned lamb cubes with salt and pepper. Place lamb in the crockpot along with water, bay leaf, carrots, onions, potatoes, and tapioca. Cover and cook on low for 10 to 12 hours, adding peas to the stew during the last hour. Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Note: If you do not wish a thickened gravy, omit the tapioca.
Recipe Source: Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, About.com Guide
Beef & Guinness Stew
The Guinness stout beer not only helps tenderize the beef, it also gives a rich malty flavor to this chunky stew. It is also flavored with onions, carrots, garlic, and thyme. The stew may be made on the stove-top or oven.
Prep Time: 15 minutes; Cook Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
•2 pounds lean stewing beef
•3 Tablespoons oil
•2 Tablespoons flour
•Salt and freshly ground pepper and a pinch of cayenne
•2 large onions, coarsely chopped
•1 large clove garlic, crushed (optional)
•2 Tablespoons tomato puree, dissolved in 4 tablespoons water
•1-1/4 cups Guinness stout beer
•2 cups carrots, cut into chunks
•Sprig of thyme
Trim the beef of any fat or gristle, cut into cubes of 2 inches (5cm) and toss them in a bowl with 1 tablespoon oil. Season the flour with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch or two of cayenne. Toss the meat in the mixture.
Heat the remaining oil in a wide frying pan over a high heat. Brown the meat on all sides. Add the onions, crushed garlic, and tomato puree to the pan, cover and cook gently for about 5 minutes.
Transfer the contents of the pan to a casserole, and pour some of the Guinness beer into the frying pan. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the caramelized meat juices on the pan.
Pour onto the meat with the remaining Guinness; add the carrots and the thyme. Stir, taste, and add a little more salt if necessary.
Cover with the lid of the casserole and simmer very gently until the meat is tender -- 2 to 3 hours. The stew may be cooked on top of the stove or in a low oven at 300 degrees F. Taste and correct the seasoning. Scatter with lots of chopped parsley. Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Recipe Source: The Complete Book of Irish Country Cooking by Darina Allen (Penguin USA)