This restorative, hearty one-pot meal channels a simple past.

By Chris Malloy
March 11, 2020

Contrary to pop culture and popular belief, Irish food isn’t all soda bread and corned beef and cabbage. There’s much more to the food of this storied green island, as its lush pastures and farmland suggest. One of the oldest and most widespread ways to eat in Ireland is to simmer a pot of stew.

Irish stew has tons of versions. Kind of like chili, recipes tend to vary from cook to cook, family to family, place to place. In your typical Irish stew, there might be meat (often lamb), vegetables (usually potatoes—surprise!), chopped herbs, and minimal spicing (salt and pepper).

Flexibility is key. You don’t have to fret about lacking a key ingredient, except meat. If you don’t have lamb, beef works. If you have a bunch of carrots and want to chop some in, go for it.

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The key to making a good Irish stew is to understand its simple nature. In its most basic form, you throw your chopped ingredients into a pot, cover them with water, turn on the heat, and wait for them to soften. Many recipes don’t even call for you to brown the meat before adding water.

The Meat

Because an Irish stew is so forgiving (and there are no pungent spices for heavily editing flavors), quality ingredients shine. If you’re using lamb, go grass-fed. This better replicates the lamb eaten in Ireland. You can get packages of grass-fed lamb stew meat, already cubed, for roughly $8 a pound. Lamb tinges stew with a more irony flavor than beef, helpings its balance. But in a pinch, beef will do. Cuts of either will tenderize as they simmer.

The Vegetables

For every one part of meat, use one to two parts vegetables. A basic Irish stew doesn’t need more than one big ticket vegetable, like potatoes. But you can add carrots, celery, cabbage, or whatever you like.

The potatoes can be any kind of potato. Russets work great. So do other kinds of potatoes, farmers’ market potatoes, or whatever you grow in your garden. Again, because the soup is simple, using fresh ingredients goes a long way. Slice potatoes into coins with some thickness, up to half an inch or so, that way they aren’t so thin they turn to mush in the simmering.

Onions help coax flavor into balance. They provide a soft depth, a touch of aromatic warmth. Use about one part chopped onion for every two parts meat.

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The Method

If you’re looking for the most minimal method, put your cubed lamb, sliced potatoes, chopped onions, and a generous handful of chopped parsley into your pot. Add salt and pepper. Cover them with water. Set your heat to medium or medium-low. Adjust the heat until the stew steadies to a simmer. Let simmer for an hour or two. Add more water when the liquid sinks below the solid ingredients. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed—that’s it.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to build another layer, give your meat a quick sear. Browning it in some in butter will give the whole stew more depth. Note, too, that this will allow your stew to be ready faster.

Irish stews are often served thickly. Meat and vegetables crowd, almost so that what you’re eating is less a stew, more a solid dish with a little broth. That broth has chicken soup vibes, the simple, homey goodness that can make soups and stews great.