Darina Allen is a true celebrity in Ireland. Her cookery shows have been televised and her books are a staple in
most Irish homes. She is the founder of Ballymaloe,
a successful cookery school in East Cork which she runs with her husband Tim Allen.
Darina has kindly agreed to provide a weekly recipe on the site, so get out that apron and start cooking!
The Irish Stew of Ballymaloe
Irish Stew is the quintessential Irish dish known from Tokyo to Toronto, from
Ballydehob to Bahrain. People who know virtually nothing about Irish food can
generally come up with Irish Stew and perhaps Corned Beef and Cabbage if pressed
to name an Irish dish.
Most are a bit fuzzy about its content, not surprising, because even Irish
people themselves can't seem to agree about what exactly constitutes an
authentic Irish Stew.
Like any peasant dish, it would have varied depending on circumstances and the
season and would have included what was to hand on that particular occasion.
Most people would allow that lamb, hogget or mutton was the preferred meat, with
lots of onions and potatoes.
It seems reasonable to assume that Irish stew was the inevitable result of
combining simple, available ingredients in the big, black, three-legged pot and
cooking them over the fire. After all, this dish originated in Irish cabins
where utensils were scarce. A griddle, a kettle, a frying pan, a three-legged
pot and a bastible or pot oven would have constituted the entire batterie de
cuisine. Florence Irwin, a Northern Irish cookery instructor and cookery writer
of fifty years ago, tells us how in the 'big house', when a pig or sheep was
killed, the griskins, spare ribs or scrag end of mutton were shared among the
farm labourers and neighbours. The meat was put straight into the big pot with
onions and peeled potatoes and then covered with water. (The potatoes were
peeled for stew, otherwise they were boiled in their jackets.)
Stew would sometimes have provided soup first, because the bones from the neck
would have given tremendous flavour to the liquid. In my grand-aunts's house in
Tipperary this was often the case..
Purists maintain that carrots would not have been added to an original Irish
stew, but they were certainly part of Irish stew in many parts of the Midlands
and also in Cork and Kerry, this however was considered a sacrilege further
North. Some afficionados like to slice a few potatoes into the bottom of the pot
to thicken the juices, others prefer to steam the potatoes whole on top of the
meat and vegetables. A few tablespoons of pearl barley added to the broth was a
favourite in many families and helped to make the dish more filling and
Whatever the recipe a really good Irish stew is comfort food at its very best, a
one-pot meal with meltingly tender meat, plump onions, chunks of carrot and lots
of yummy juices to mash the floury potatoes into with a knob of melting butter.
Buy shoulder of lamb chops on the bone, make sure the chops are nice and thick,
at least one inch. For our version of Irish Stew, we divide the chops into two
or at most three pieces. Some people prefer to cut the meat into large cubes,
either way it is essential to include the bone for flavour. If the carrots are
young leave them whole, otherwise cut into biggish chunks or they will
disintegrate in the cooking. Small whole onions are best, but young onions with
their green tops trimmed a little are also delicious in early Summer. In fact,
even though stew sounds more like Autumn or Winter food, the best Irish Stew is
made in early Summer with young lamb and new season's carrots and onions.
Choose large potatoes and pop them on top of the meat to cook in the steam, if
your potatoes are smallish postpone adding them to the pot until later, adding
them perhaps half way through cooking.
Some people like to thicken the juices, others not, we degrease the juices when
the stew is fully cooked, the meat should be soft and tender, literally falling
off the bones. We then whisk just a little roux into the boiling degreased
juices to thicken it ever so slightly. Add lots of chopped parsley and a few
snipped chives, pour this flavoursome broth over the meat, vegetables and floury
potatoes and serve your feast immediately in hot deep bowls.