Irish Lamb Stew with Bacon
Around St. Patrick’s Day I notice many people coming to this site looking for an Irish lamb stew recipe. After some experimentation and a lot of research into Irish stews, I’ve settled on a stew that has its roots in the traditional approach, but takes a few detours to add a bit more flavor.
Traditionally, Irish stew is made with mature lamb (year old) or mutton, potatoes, onions, and water, and is simply cooked low and slow. Where we make embellishments with this recipe is that we work with lamb shoulder, the meat is browned first, in bacon fat, and carrots, bacon, and thyme are all added. All of these steps are to bring a richer flavor to the stew. (If you want, you can skip any or all of these additions.)
Cook the lamb pieces bone-in for better flavor, especially if using water instead of lamb stock. If you want, remove the bones before serving. Turnips are strongly flavored and add a good balance for the stew, so use them if you can. A waxy potato like a Yukon gold will hold up better for long cooking, but you can also use a starchy potato like a Russet, it will likely fall apart a bit, but that just thickens the stew. More barley will thicken the stew further.
- 2 1/2 pounds lamb shoulder or shoulder blade chops, bone-in, trimmed of excess fat
- 6 slices bacon, thickly cut
- 2 pounds potatoes (Yukon gold preferred), peeled, quartered
- 2 large onions, quartered
- 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch segments
- 1 turnip, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 heaping tablespoons pearl barley (omit for gluten-free version)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 quart of water or lamb stock, warmed
1 Heat a large (6-quart), thick-bottomed Dutch oven on medium heat. Layer the bacon on the bottom of the pan and cook the slices gently, a few minutes on each side, until much of the fat has been rendered out, and the slices have browned lightly. Place the cooked bacon strips on a paper-towel-lined plate to absorb the excess fat. Chop the bacon and set aside.
2 Remove all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat from the pan (do not pour the removed fat down the drain or it will clog the drain pipes). Increase the heat to medium high. Working in batches as to not crowd the pan, brown the lamb pieces on all sides, taking care not to stir the lamb pieces so they can get sufficiently browned.
3 Arrange the meat and vegetables in the pan in layers. Start first with a layer of lamb, then add a layer of potatoes, onions, turnips, carrots, and chopped bacon. Add another layer of lamb and then another of vegetables. Add the barley, thyme, black pepper and a teaspoon of salt.
3 Add water or stock to the pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer. Let simmer, covered, but with the lid slightly ajar, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the meat is fork tender and falling off the bones.
4 Skim any excess fat from the stew. Use tongs to pick out and remove bones. Adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste.