Spicy Lamb Stew

Updated, from the recipe archive. First posted 2006.

We love lamb around here, every which way—braised, roasted, grilled, and even made into meatballs. Here is a spicy lamb stew, that is almost beefy in taste. Think of it as a spicy lamb pot roast. The recipe is adapted from The Niman Ranch Cookbook, where it is billed as a tagine, a savory Moroccan stew. Lamb shoulder pieces are browned, and then slow cooked in stock and spices such as cumin, paprika, and cardamom. Slow cooking, at a low, even temperature is important for the lamb shoulder to become tender. We cooked this stew on the stove-top, but you could easily make it in a slow-cooker or even a traditional Moroccan tagine.

Spicy Lamb Stew Recipe

  • Prep time: 25 minutes
  • Cook time: 3 hours, 30 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4-6.

You will get more flavor if you use less expensive lamb pieces that come bone-in, in which case you'll likely want to remove the bones before serving. Pick lamb pieces that have some fat.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 lbs of lamb shoulder stew meat, cut into 1½-inch cubes
  • Olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 red bell peppers, chopped
  • 2 dry pasilla chiles, chopped, stems and most seeds removed
  • 1 Tbsp hot Hungarian paprika*
  • 1½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • Pinch of ground cardamon
  • 1½ cups chicken stock (use gluten-free stock for gluten-free version)
  • 14 oz of canned whole tomatoes, put through a food mill, or puréed
  • 8-10 sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 4-5 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2/3 cup raisins
  • Salt and pepper

* Hot Hungarian paprika is not the regular Hungarian paprika which is sweet and mild. It is even hotter than cayenne. If you don't have access to hot paprika, I would substitute 1/2 with sweet paprika and 1/2 with chili powder.

Method

1 Pat the lamb dry with a paper towel. Drying the lamb this way first will help the lamb pieces brown. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy, high-sided pot, such as a Dutch oven, over medium high heat. When the pot is hot, add the lamb pieces in batches, being careful not to crowd them. Cook, turning as needed so that the lamb pieces brown evenly on all sides, for 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

2 Return the pot to medium-high heat. Add the onions, dried peppers and red bell peppers and stir to coat with the oil in the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute.

3 Make a bouquet garni by placing the parsley, thyme and bay leaf in the center of a doubled over cheesecloth square. Gather the ends and secure with kitchen string.

4 Stir in the paprika, cumin, and cardamom and cook for a minute. Add the puréed (or cooked tomatoes put through a food mill) tomatoes, lamb, chicken stock, raisins and bouquet garni. Bring to a boil over high heat, decrease heat to low. Cook, partially covered, for about 3 hours, or until lamb is tender.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve over couscous or rice (gluten-free option).

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Recipe adapted from a Village Pub lamb tagine recipe in the Niman Ranch Cookbook.

15 Comments

  1. mscocolove

    Hey!

    I made this recipe in a slow cooker on Saturday night for our Easter Sunday feast.

    I followed all of the directions up until I needed to cook it for 3hrs. I also used the 1/2 paprika, 1/2 chili powder mixture.

    Instead, I heated up the slow cooker first (by putting water in it, and turning it on), and then I heated up the chicken broth in a separate pot, and then when the slow cooker was nice and hot, I poured out the water, poured in the chicken broth and all of the other ingredients from the recipe that had been simmering in a large pot. Then I put my slow cooker on HIGH for 3.5 hours and BOY WAS IT TASTY! The meat was simply falling apart!!

    We served it with some Basmati Saffon Rice, some Tomatoes Stuffed with Tabouleh Salad, and some Dolmas.

    We will definitely make this again. It is truly delicious!

  2. David Holtz

    I have made this recipe a number of times and it is one of my favorite things to make and eat. Mine always tends to look much darker than the picture above, but it is absolutely delicious.

  3. Anna

    This is the 1st recipe I ever made from your website and when trying to impress my fiance. It was a big hit and I haven’t made it again yet but I am going to next week. You have too much stuff on here to make this often :)

  4. Anna

    MMMMM so good. I am eating this right now! I finally made it again, this time I used a leg of lamb because that is what I had and I doubled the recipe. It is amazingly delicious. Also last time I had no pasilla chilies but I do this time. I love the multifaceted flavor of this dish, it is not as spicy as one would think, and the heat definatley comes down with cooking. It has this gentle heat with sweet undertones. It does not leave a burn in your mouth at all. Sooooo yummy. I served it with plain rice b/c hubby hates couscous …

  5. Anna

    So, I have been noticing that a variety of stew recipes call for browning the meat, and I got to wondering why? All the recipes call for drying and browning the meat, I know the meat must be dry to brown properly but I am confused as to why this is necessary, Elise, i am sure you know the answer, please tell me!

    Simple answer. Browned meat tastes better. The reason? When the meat reaches a certain temperature, a variety of chemical reactions take place that produce many wonderful flavors. Sort of like the new flavors that happen when you cook sugar until it browns, or caramelizes. In the case of meat, it’s not caramelization, but browning from a chemical process called a Maillard reaction. When the surface of the meat is damp, the water keeps the meat from getting to the temperature needed to brown the meat. Water boils away above 212 degrees. Maillard reactions happen at about 310°F. So as long as the meat is still wet, it can’t get hot enough to brown, instead it cooks by being steamed or boiled. This is why with a stew, you brown the meat first. Then you add liquid. ~Elise

  6. Claudia

    I made this stew last night and it was delicious. Thanks for the many wonderful recipes. You make me look great when it comes to working in the kitchen! Oh yea, have a great holiday.

  7. Mikey

    If I wanted to make this stew but cook it in the oven, how would I change the cooking method and what temp/times should I use with the oven?

    I would do everything through half of step 5 on the stove-top, including getting it to a boiling temp, then put it in the oven, partially covered (that’s mostly covered, but not completely) at about 300°F for 3 hours. Check half way to make sure it’s not drying out. ~Elise

  8. meg

    Lamb is probably my favorite meat. We recently did a butterflied and stuffed leg of lamb on a Traeger grill (more like an oven than a grill). The stuffing was made of feta, leftover smoky bacon, dates, thyme, cumin, lots of oregano, and fresh basil. Probably the best piece of meat I have ever eaten. Thanks for another great way to cook lamb. The more the merrier!

  9. Anna

    Quinoa is another gluten-free starch alternative to cous-cous.

  10. Katrina

    Great stew! Yum!

  11. Tina

    Made this last week for my family and it was devoured. Due to a lack of affordable lamb at my grocery store, I substituted veal shoulder, which was good, but i’ll try it with lamb once I can find it!

  12. Angela

    Wow – this even converted a couple of people who told me they don’t like lamb. Fantastic.

  13. chiccup

    On my…totally delicious! Really.

    Normally, I like to try out the recipe As Is on the first go, then adjust it next time if needed, unfortunately, I had to make changes on the first go due to currently being in a small town where things are hard to get..so, with that said, this is what i changed:

    -Lamb Breast instead of lamb shoulder. Yes, it requires a lot of trimming and I also cut it to individual riblets…also, it’s fairly innexpensive.

    -No cardamon.

    -More raisins..like, 1/2 a box! I love getting sweet bites in savory foods. Also, I bought golden raisins..I find that they are more aesthetically suited for the dish.

    -3c of chicken stock

    -1lb. Stew beef.

    -1/2lb Red and Gold Baby potatoes; quartered.

    After cutting each breast into individual riblets, I trimmed the fat and browned them; set aside.

    I then tossed in the potatoes just to brown them a little, then set them aside.

    I added a little olive oil with a little piece of fat that I trimmed from the breast and browned the beef..I set it aside with the riblets.

    I then followed the recipe as directed..just adding 2c of stock, rather than 1.5c

    I cooked it for 2-3 hours, pulled out the riblets, deboned them, and cut them into bite size pieces prior to throwing them back, along with the extra cup of stock and potatoes.

    Cook for an additional hour. Done!

    …I will say though, you’ll need to do A LOT of skimming during the cooking process, but its so worth it. This part of the lamb is soooo flavorful and tender. Even the beef takes on the lamb flavor.

    I served it over brown rice that I scented with ginger while cooking and tossed with a little salt, olive oil, and fresh parsley…unfortunately, couscous doesn’t exist in this border town. Bummer.

  14. Cheryl

    We made this recipe tonight for the first time and it was fantastic, I did make a couple changes. During the last hour of simmering I added 1 cup Red wine – it gave it some extra body and I’d definitely recommend it.

    We also had it over fresh pasta – tonight – whole wheatchestnut pasta that I bought from Pastaworks in Portland, OR. We have whole wheat for tomorrow.

  15. Chandra

    I squeezed in half a lemon. Good stuff!

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