TGIFOOD

ST PADDY’S FEAST

Throwback Thursday: Drunken Irish Stew

Throwback Thursday: Drunken Irish Stew
Tony Jackman’s Drunken Irish Stew, served on a plate alongside other leprechaun-green plateware from Mervyn Gers Ceramics. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Ballymaloe. Stobhach gaelach. That’s Irish Stew to the rest of us. Meat, potatoes, onion, carrots, parsley and, in this somewhat inebriated version, good old Guinness and beef stock to give it depth of flavour. Yep, St Patrick’s Day is this weekend, a time to celebrate all things Irish.

Irish stew is a casserole of mutton or lamb, potatoes, onions, and parsley, sometimes carrots, and in modern versions also including a good whack of Guinness, the black dry stout that has been produced in Dublin since 1759. Guinness, in case you don’t know, tastes better in Ireland.

I can vouch for this, having drunk it there for three weeks before returning to London, ordering a pint of Guinness. There was something missing; perhaps you need actual Irish people around you when drinking it. My theory is that they keep all the best for themselves and send the rest overseas to the rest of us. Either way, I used an entire can of it in my Irish Stew, and you might want to have a second one to hand to wash it down with. This version, then, is Drunken Irish Stew.

It is a simple dish, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean it need not be utterly delicious. The key, for me, is to use plenty of strong beef stock, the aforementioned 440 ml of Guinness, and carrots. Why carrots? Though they weren’t always in the older, traditional Irish stews, carrots always lend a sweetness to a stew, and offer a counterpoint to the dark brew of the stout and the power of the beef stock. The other chief ingredient is time. You need several hours for the meat to tenderise while the flavours all develop. 

Parsley is traditional too, but in some modern versions you will also find thyme and perhaps other herbs. Garlic often appears in modern iterations of it, though I did not use it, and I like to use a fair dose of tomato purée, which can only add to the overall deliciousness of it without altering its essential character.

In the USA, where Irish immigrants fled during the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-52 (also known as the Great Famine or Great Hunger), beef gradually took over from mutton or lamb in their version of the dish, so this one, I suppose, is more like the later American version. Americans have never been big on lamb or mutton.

At the very least, though, your Irish stew should contain meat, potatoes, onions and parsley. The meat, traditionally, is not on the bone, but I wouldn’t let that get in the way, as bones can only add flavour to a casserole. I used celery as well, and bay leaves.

Ingredients

500 g cubed mutton, lamb or beef, off the bone

2 large onions, sliced

3 carrots, sliced

1 celery stalk, diced

3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly

440 ml Guinness

600 ml (or more) strong beef stock

100 ml tomato purée

Rosemary salt (or plain coarse sea salt) to taste

Black pepper to taste

Olive oil, as needed

3 thyme sprigs

2 Tbsp chopped flatleaf parsley

3 bay leaves

1 dessertspoon cornflour mixed with 4 Tbsp milk

Method

Fry the cubed meat in olive oil in batches, and set aside. Add more olive oil to the pot as needed, and more for the onions, which you put in next, with the sliced carrots and celery. Cook gently, stirring, for 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the browned meat back to the pot, followed by the Guinness, beef stock and tomato purée. Stir and bring it to the boil, add the thyme sprigs and bay leaves, and season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Add the scalloped (cut into thin rounds) potatoes on top. This may not be traditional but it’s a nice way to do it, even if I have borrowed that from the very similar dish known as a Lancashire Hotpot.

If there’s not enough liquid in the pot to more than cover the contents of the pot, add more beef stock. 

Bring back to the boil, cover, and simmer on a very low heat (or in a low oven of about 160℃) for 3½ to 4 hours or so or until the meat is perfectly tender and the potato scallops are cooked through. Stir in the parsley 5 minutes before it’s cooked. Let it cool for 10 minutes for the fats to rise to the surface, and skim off excess fat. Reheat before serving, garnished with parsley. DM/TGIFood

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Writer of the Year 2023, jointly with Anna Trapido. His book, foodSTUFF, is available in the DM Shop. Buy it here

Mervyn Gers Ceramics supplies dinnerware for the styling of some TGIFood shoots.

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.

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