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Cherished recipes are like ripples, each one an echo of the wave-maker that first broke the surface. This Ballymaloe House lamb stew is the 1940s original that started ripples of stews to follow. A version of it was later published in Gourmet magazine (1960s) and then again in Ruth Reichl’s 2004-published volume featuring six-decades of Gourmet recipe bests. Rather than look to the later versions, when a woman wrote me in search of the recipe, I reached out to Darina Allen, head of the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland, and a member of the family running Ballymaloe House Hotel and Restaurant.
According to Darina, the simple, hearty recipe was given to her mother-in-law Myrtle Allen by neighbor Madge Dolan in the 1940s. It became a staple at both Ballymaloe House and at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. While lamb stew is extremely common in Ireland with regional variations from county to county, (no carrots in Northern Ireland; barley added for extra sustenance in other places,) this version differed from others of the period because the meat and vegetables are browned in hot fat before stewing, making the finished dish more flavorful. It’s a very simple and straightforward recipe—the love you add comes with peeling all those tiny potatoes and pearl onions (!) The stew is delicious served up right after you make it and is also good warmed up the next day.
Ballymaloe Irish Lamb Stew
Cuisine Irish Category Irish
- 3 lbs 1-inch-thick shoulder lamb chops OR substitute 1-inch-thick slices lamb leg
- 1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 2 -inch pieces (about 8 medium)
- 1 lb fresh white pearl onions, peeled and whole
- Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- 1 ½ lbs baby potatoes, peeled
- Sprig of fresh thyme
- 1 ½ Tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 1 Tbsp minced flat leaf parsley (plus a bit extra for garnish)
- 1 Tbsp minced chives (plus a bit extra for garnish)
- 2 ½ cups lamb stock (or unsalted chicken stock)
- With oven rack at center position, preheat oven to 350°. Divide each chop in half at natural division (they’ll split lengthwise, right in the middle.)
- Trim visible fat. Heat fat in heavy skillet over low heat until fat is rendered, discarding any solid bits but leaving the rendered fat in the pan.)
- Season chops with salt and pepper
- Increase heat to medium and brown the chops in the pan in two batches
- Transfer one layer of the browned chops to an enameled cast iron casserole or Dutch oven
- Grind a bit more pepper and salt over all
- Toss the onions and carrots in the hot fat remaining in the skillet. Layer half of the carrots and onions over the first layer of meat. Grind more pepper and salt over. Layer the rest of the chops over the vegetables; top with the remaining carrots and onion. Grind more pepper and salt over. Arrange peeled baby potatoes on top.
- De-glaze the skillet with the lamb or chicken stock, scraping any meat or veggie bits loose. Pour all into the casserole (or Dutch oven.) Add the sprig of thyme. Heat to boiling on the stove top. Cover.
- Transfer the covered casserole to the preheated oven and roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
- Remove from oven. Pour off cooking broth and reserve. Skim off and discard grease from the surface of the liquid. Reserve cooking broth.
- Over low heat, melt butter in frying pan; add flour and brown a bit. Whisk in cooking broth until thickened into a gravy. Pour gravy back over the meat and vegetables in the pot. Garnish with chives and parsley. Serve piping hot, with crusty bread.
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