Irish Stew: Comfort in a Bowl

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My mother will find it deeply amusing when she discovers that not only do I occasionally cook Irish stew but now I am sharing my (her) recipe for this nostalgic dish.  You see stew for dinner is something I have complained about since I had enough words to complain. And even before this I apparently spat it out unceremoniously.  In fact I have been known, even in recent times, to turn my nose up at a steaming bowl of Ireland’s favourite comfort food. Simply put, I have never been a huge fan of meat that is slow cooked to that melt in the mouth texture, something that appears to place me firmly in the minority.

That said there are days when the air is damp and cold, I am tired from the stresses of the workplace and it seems like it is dark every time I step outside the door. These are the days when stew simmers on my stove. Today is one such day.

Stew is a childhood dish, its aroma is a memory, its preparation returns me to a different kitchen in a different home, where someone else lovingly chopped spuds and peeled carrots. It is a dinner that needs to be eaten with a spoon, that refuses to be rushed and that is indestructible to even the most novice of cooks.  And, despite my personal preference for pastas or risottos, steaks or sea bass, curries or crostini, there are still occasions when meat, potatoes and veg, cooked together slowly in one pot are just what the doctor ordered.  These are the days when food is about more than just taste, it is about home, simplicity and comfort.  So as the casserole dish bubbles away in the oven, I thought I would share my recipe for Ireland’s signature supper.

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Ingredients:

2 glugs of olive oil
4 lamb chops
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 parsnips peeled and roughly chopped
1 generous sprinkle of dried oregano
3 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 l (1¾ pints) beef or lamb stock
A handful of potatoes, peeled and quartered
A sprinkle of fresh parsley
sea salt and ground black pepper

Method:

Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Place a large, flameproof casserole pot over a high heat, add the olive oil and brown the lamb chops. Reduce the heat to medium–high, add the onion, potato, parsnip and carrot and simply toss with the meat for a minute or two.  Sprinkle in the oregano and pour over the stock, season generously with sea salt and ground black pepper and bring to the boil.  Cover the dish and place in the oven to cook for about 1 hour or until the meat is tender.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve from warm bowls with buttered bread if desired.

And as you eat or read, think on the late Seamus Heaney’s wonderful poetic offering “When All the Others”, where mother and son prepare food together in the room that to me is the unquestionable heart of the home. They create far more than a meal that morning, they create a memory that lives on even after death.  Food brings families and friends together…it does not just sustain, it nourishes us in every possible sense.

When All the Others by Seamus Heaney

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

So while I do not love the taste of stew, I love where the sight and smell of it transports me.  To the kitchen of my childhood, watching my mother and taking for granted the love she was adding to each meal she prepared for us.

Do we all have meals like that?  Meals that transport us to another place. Meals that are about something far more special than simply taste.  xx

 

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