28 September 2009

Lamb Stew

The Viking has been agitating for a few weeks now for me to start making stew 'because it's fall' and never mind that it's been plenty warm for most of this month. This weekend I finally caved and made this variation on Irish stew for him. It is is one of those things that is really easy and requires very little attention after the prep is done. Do not, however, be tempted to skip on the prep work. Carmelising the onions, searing the lamb, and the roux-thickened Guinness gravy all really do matter.

No photos, sorry. I have misplaced my camera, but if you read here regularly, you've seen my blue Le Creuset cocotte, my cast iron skillet, and my ugly white electric range before anyway.

Lamb Stew (serves 4-6)

1 lb lamb, cut into chunks

2 large onions, sliced
2 tbsp brown sugar

4 medium red potatoes, cut into large cubes, soaked in cold water for half an hour, and drained
2 medium carrots, sliced

3 tbs butter
3 tbs flour
16 oz can of Guinness (or other dark stout)

Batterie de cuisine: large skillet, dutch oven, knives, wooden spoon, fork or tongs for turning meat. This is probably easily adaptable to a slow cooker, but I prefer the oven method for this recipe.

Preheat oven to 250 F (120 C).

The cut of lamb is not critical -- if you can get lamb already cut up for stewing, great, but you can also cut up a small piece of butterflied leg or neck or whatever is available. Season the meat with salt and pepper and set aside.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in the skillet. Add the onions, stir until they are beginning to soften, then add the sugar. Continue cooking and stirring until the onions are carmelised, about 3 to 5 minutes. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may want to do this in two batches. Set onions aside.

Add a bit more oil to the skillet, turn the heat up, and sear the lamb chunks, turning them with tongs or a fork so that they are browned on all sides. Again, you probably want to do this in batches; the goal is to get a Maillard reaction going, and too much meat in the pan will make it too wet for that to happen.

Once the lamb is ready, begin filling the dutch oven: Put half the onions in the bottom, followed by half the potatoes and carrots, and then half the lamb. Repeat the layers with the remaining ingredients.

Return the skillet to the heat and add the butter, scraping the bottom of the pan as it melts to loosen any browned bits. When the butter has melted, add the flour, and stir constantly until completely combined with the butter and starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the stout a little bit at a time, stirring constantly, until completely incorporated into the roux, again, about 3-5 minutes. The gravy will be thicker than seems right. Do not be tempted to thin it. The juices from the lamb and vegetables will do that as the stew cooks.

Pour the gravy over the contents of the dutch oven, put on the lid, and slide into the oven. The stew will be ready in about 2 hours. Stir it once about halfway through the cooking. Usually when I taste it at this halfway point it tastes harsh, in an 'ugh, hot Guinness' sort of way. If this happens to you, do not panic. Just put the lid back on the dutch oven, close the oven door, and walk away for another hour. After the second hour, the carrots and potatoes are fork tender (but not falling apart), the onions have dissolved, and the 'ugh, hot Guinness' taste has been replaced with the most savoury gravy imaginable.

Serve with rolls or bread to sop up the gravy. Even better the second day.

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