An Irish stew for more contemporary tastesSunday, March 16, 2014
A breath of fresh Eire
The Washington Post
“Definitely gives people the wrong idea,” says chef-restaurateur Cathal Armstrong, who just published My Irish Table: Recipes From the Homeland and Restaurant Eve, with co-author David Hagedorn (Ten Speed Press).
The Irish stew in their book is closer to the real deal, but even that recipe calls for the non-traditional step of first searing the meat — lamb on the bone — to give it colour. Armstrong confirms that a thin, bland broth, onions and potatoes are the other authentic components. The only thickener is the spuds, which you’d mash with the back of your fork, he says. And, after offering a brief history of the dish, he ends with an unlikely general assessment: “Realistically, it’s not that good.”
Armstrong suspects our pervasive pub versions have been beefed up to keep restaurant costs in line (lamb is more expensive) and to cater to palates that are, on the whole, not into the other red meat. The story of real Irish food was what Armstrong wanted to tell, through personal remembrance and simplified recipes. Early reviews have responded with enthusiasm. The book also reflects the journey of his flagship Alexandria restaurant, which turns 10 this year.
It’s a testament to modern Ireland that its cuisine can pay homage to a past marked by deprivation even as it celebrates all that's now grown and raised in the country. In Irish Table, you’ll find fish pies and Dublin coddles. But odds are good that you’ll also be marking the pages for homemade bran flakes and crustless spinach pies. Erin, go brag.
Recipe for a contemporary Irish Stew
Four to six servings. Serve with warm Irish soda bread.
— One half-pound lamb shoulder
— Five three-quarter cups no-salt-added chicken broth or vegetable broth
— One pound russet potatoes
— Four ounces carrots
— Four ounces leeks
— Four ounces celery
— Four ounces white or green cabbage
— One medium onion
— One bouquet garni, tied with kitchen twine (a few stems parsley and thyme and a bay leaf)
— Kosher salt
— Freshly ground black pepper
— 14 ounces home-cooked or canned, no-salt-added cannellini beans (optional)
— One tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Cut the lamb into one-inch pieces, discarding as much visible fat as possible as you work.
Combine the lamb and broth in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil over high heat; skim off and discard any foam and fat from the surface. Reduce the heat to medium-low; cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel the potatoes, then cut them into one-inch pieces. Scrub the carrots well, then cut them into one-inch pieces. Cut the white and light-green parts of the leeks into one-inch pieces; soak in a bowl of water without disturbing them, then rinse well and drain. Cut the celery, cabbage and onion into one-inch pieces.
Add all of the vegetables and the bouquet garni to the pot; increase the heat to high just to bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes or until the lamb is tender.
Add the cannellini beans, if using; cook for a few minutes, just until warmed through. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Serve hot, sprinkled with parsley.
Adapted from Irish Country Cooking: More Than 100 Recipes for Today’s Table, from the Irish Countrywomen’s Association (Sterling, 2014).