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Irish lamb stew

Lamb and root vegetables team up for a hearty, satisfying lamb stew.

By Blue Kitchen / February 25, 2011

Lamb stew is a stick-to-your-ribs dish full of delicious flavors.

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Lamb stew is practically a national dish in Ireland and for good reason. Even the summers there aren’t what you’d call toasty, so a warm, stick-to-your-ribs dish like this is all the more welcome. And two key ingredients, lamb and potatoes, have been long associated with Ireland, both as crops and as staples. Surprisingly, though, ideas of what constitutes a traditional Irish lamb stew vary wildly. Some recipes call for browning the lamb, some not; different cooks add beer or wine or no booze at all; some add peas, some not; one recipe (which admitted to not being traditional) even added bacon. So after reading numerous recipes, both “Irish” and otherwise, I did what I usually do – I cobbled together my own take.

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The distinctive taste of lamb. Throughout the UK and Ireland – indeed, throughout much of the Western world that isn’t the United States – lamb is much loved. Many Americans apparently have a hard time warming to what is often described as the gaminess of lamb. That gamy flavor – as the dictionary defines it, “having the tangy flavor or odor of game” – is what makes lamb special. It’s the same quality that separates venison from beef and duck from chicken. And while I love a good steak or roast chicken, there’s just something exciting about the “wildness” of game.

Lamb comes by its gamy character honestly. Their diet is more varied than most domestic animals, including not only grasses, but any other plants they come upon in their grazing. And they get more exercise, so their meat is more muscular and darker in color [thanks to improved circulation]. Together, these factors add up to lamb tasting closer to, say, deer or elk than to other domestic meats.

Much has been written about ways to tone down the gaminess of lamb. But I say embrace it. I mean, why bother to cook lamb if you just want it to taste like beef? In this delicious, simple stew, it adds a welcome distinctive touch that becomes more subtle as the stew cooks.

Lamb Stew
Serves 4

2 tablespoons canola oil (plus more, if needed)
1 tablespoon butter
1-1/4 pounds lamb, cut into bite-sized chunks (see Kitchen Notes)
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme, divided
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons flour
1 bay leaf
12 ounces dark beer, such as a stout [can be omitted]
12 ounces chicken broth or stock
1 cup water (plus more, if needed)
1 turnip, peeled and cut into chunks
3 carrots, peeled and sliced on diagonal into bite-sized chunks
5 red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite-sized chunks, but not peeled (1-1/2 to 2 pounds)