Thursday, June 28, 2007

Irish Stew

Slow cooked meat would have to be one of my favourite foods. I love how the meat just falls off the bone and dissolves in your mouth. I fail a little at actually cooking stews, casseroles and roasts as I'm rarely at home long enough. I get home a little too late on a weekday. As for weekends I'm usually cramming far too much into the two days to cook anything which takes more than 1 hour to prepare and cook. Often this cramming includes some kind of baking so perhaps I could cook sweets after the stew is underway. Still, there I go again, more cramming. I'd like to think the idea of a long, slow stew is about slowing down in general. Staying inside, cozy and relaxed. I think I will make an effort to make slow-cooked meals more often. Wind things back a little, take my time and watch the pot boil.

Having said that, this Irish stew is one thing that can be prepared and forgotten. My inspiration came for a Good Weekend clipping but I consulted various different recipes to get the feel of things. The clipping's ingredients were lamb, potatoes, onions, water and salt/pepper. Surely you need more than that to make a meal delicious? Apparently not, I included a few additions, as outlined below, but it was still pretty simple and tasted delicious. The potatoes really soaked up the flavour and were a particular highlight. All recipes I consulted suggested the potatoes should be peeled. I wasn't so keen on this, partly because I thought it added a rustic touch, but also because I couldn't really be bothered. Were the Irish bothered back in the day? On one hand I think waste not, want not. But on the other hand, I guess illness and disease were killers and potatoes probably weren't as well washed in the clean water that we have today.

Many recipes also stated mutton over lamb. I didn't even try to get it. I probably should have. The flatmate often brings back legs of mutton from her parents farm and they are delicious. The bigger flavour of mutton is definitely under-appreciated, hidden by mutton being a "cheaper" meat and often poorly cooked. It takes me right back to student days and institutionalized food. I did try to get neck chops as suggested but the butcher claimed forequarter would be just as good.

The recipe (serves 5):

1 kg mutton or lamb neck chops (this quantity of chops was a little short for 5 people, you could increase it without changing anything else in the recipe)
1.2 kg potatoes (this is heaps for 5 people), peeled.
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced
Salt and pepper
1 cup stock (beef, veal or lamb)
about 3 cups of water
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees

Trim the chops of all fat, including the skin. Slice the potatoes about 5mm thick and lay half evenly over the base of a large casserole dish/pot. Sprinkly with half the onion and then lay the chops over the top to form another layer. Season well with salt and pepper, add 1-2 stalks of parsely and thyme each, sprinkle with remaining onion, top with potato and season again. Add the stock and enough water to almost cover the contents. Cover and put the pot in the oven.
After 15 minutes turn the heat down to 150 degrees and continue cooking for about 1 3/4 hours.
Check half way through that there is still enough broth left to cook the potatoes and meat. You can remove the lid for the last 15 minutes to crisp up the top layer of potatoes.

I cooked the stew and had S-bo's flatmates round to help me eat it. There was ample potato but a little less meat. Don't forget to reserve the liquid from the cooking. If you let it cool and skim fat off the top it makes a delicious stock. I can't wait to make soup with it!

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