It's St. Patrick's Day soon, a day celebrated by Irish and non-Irish alike. It's always been a lovely reason to spend a lively evening dancing, drinking and making merry. Of course this year is very different. Public celebrations have been cancelled in Geneva, and the French government has now closed all non-essential shops, restaurants and bars. I thought it would be nice to have a celebration at home instead. I'm half Irish, so St. Patrick's Day has always been part of my life. This time we settled on a low key dinner at home, all sitting family-style around the coffee table.
Of course, I had to make Irish stew with mash and cabbage. As a last minute addition, I made some soda bread too. Soda bread was something my Irish Nana always made. Most recipes I found used buttermilk, but I don't remember Nana ever having that in. I seem to remember her using sour yogurt but I can't be certain now. I used soured milk instead, following this recipe. I did tweak it a bit. I used a mixture of white and wholemeal flour, and made one big loaf rather than two small ones. While I like crusty bread, the crust on soda bread can get quite dense, so one big one has less crust on it. Adjust the cooking time accordingly though!
So back to the stew. Getting hold of all the ingredients was a bit challenging given the panic buying, but I managed to find a whole leg of lamb, and used the meat from that. Based on what you can get hold of, you will need:
- lamb for stewing, 1" dice (I used leg which has a lovely layer of fat that melts, but you could use neck or shoulder. If you can get hold of it, the cheaper lamb breast would be amazing but you'll need to skim the fat off the stew)
- onions, finely diced
- carrots, sliced
- potatoes, diced
- seasoned flour (I used salt, pepper and dried rosemary)
- stock (lamb, chicken or beef - I won't tell anyone if you use a stock cube. I did!)
- salt, pepper and dried thyme
- Worcester sauce
1. Toss the cubed lamb in seasoned flour, then brown them in a large pan that'll fit your stew. Only brown a few pieces at a time to avoid the pan cooling down too much, and make sure to brown all sides. This step is time consuming and messy but is worth doing.
2. Turn the heat down in the pan, and soften the onions for 5-10 minutes. Then add in the carrots, potatoes and lamb. Add enough stock to cover then season the stew with salt, pepper, thyme and Worcester sauce. It doesn't look like much now, but it will turn into something wonderful, promise! Feel free to add a bay leaf, or use fresh herbs if you've got them in.
3. Simmer for around 90 minutes until the lamb is tender. The onions should have melted into the gravy, and the sauce will be thicker. I left the lid on (perhaps a mistake) so my gravy wasn't very thick. I used some Bisto to thicken, but you could also add cornflour, or leave the lid off to reduce the liquid down and concentrate the flavour if you're more of a purist.
4. Serve the stew with more potatoes (mashed in my case), and buttered savoy cabbage. Ideally, the cabbage should be more butter than cabbage.
Don't forget the lovely homemade soda bread. Slice and butter it, and use the bread to soak up all the lovely gravy. I think James Martin would be pleased with the amount of butter used in this meal.
The benefit of a meal like this (and I think why it was so popular among Irish families), is that it makes a little meat go a long way. Half a leg of lamb went into the stew to serve 8 people (you could bulk it out with even more veg like swede and celery), and the other half has been roasted in the oven. I'll use that meat for other meals like a curry, then use the bones for stock. I bet that will make a lovely base for a Turkish lentil and mint soup!
Any leftover veg and mash can be made into bubble & squeak the next day too. Just fry it up in butter until you have lots of crispy bits! It can be served with whatever you have in. Eggs, pork chops, black pudding, bacon, gravy. Just use your imagination!