I’ve eaten Irish stew in private homes and public eating places all over Ireland, north and south, probably twenty-five or thirty examples in all, and no two have been alike. (The most purely delicious example I remember came from Gleeson’s Townhouse & Restaurant in Roscommon, though I suspect its appeal came not from any secret ingredient or magical cooking technique but from the flavor inherent in the raw materials that went into it. The very thick version offered at Belfast’s historic Crown Liquor Saloon isn’t bad, either.) Along the way, I’ve come to believe that the construction of this dish should adhere to a few simple guidelines: (1) Given that you probably couldn’t find mutton if you wanted it, at least not in America, use the best quality Iamb you can find--locally raised farmers’ market stuff, if possible--but use the less expensive, more flavorful cuts. (2) Keep it simple; improvisation is fine, and the world won’t end if you add carrots or fresh thyme or whatever, but don’t throw too many different things into the pot. (3) Cook it very slowly; an old adage has it that “a stew boiled is a stew spoiled.” (4) Always make the stew 24 hours or so before you’re going to serve it; a night in the refrigerator really will improve it. (5) As Theodora FitzGibbon notes, Irish stew is “frequently spoilt by too much liquid”; the finished product should be thick enough to stand a spoon in.
- 3 lb/1.5 kg mutton or lamb from the neck or shoulder, trimmed and cut into cubes
- 2 lb/1 kg russet potatoes, thickly sliced
- ½ bunch parsley, trimmed and finely chopped
- 1 lb/500 g onions, thinly sliced
- Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 250°F/120°C (Gas Mark ½).
Put the lamb, potatoes, parsley, and onions into a heavy casserole with a lid and season generously with salt and pepper. (Or layer the ingredients, starting and ending with a layer of potatoes, and seasoning each layer to taste.)
Add 2 cups/475 ml of water or enough to barely cover the ingredients. Bring to a simmer over low heat (do not boil), then cover and put into the oven. Cook for 2½ to 3 hours or until the meat is very tender and the stew is thick, adding a little water if the stew dries out too much.
Nutritional information is based on 1/8 teaspoon added salt per serving.