Every now and then my Irish / New Zealand heritage rears its ugly (hungry) head. I go walking through a butcher or supermarket and think, “That whole side of mutton looks pretty damn good”. Despite the fact that I don’t actually like mutton that much, and probably couldn’t even fit a full leg roast into my oven… the desire is still there.
Back in the day however, there was no trendy reason for lamb/mutton being a big part of our diet. We were living in rural New Zealand and my Dad was a shearer, and father of 5 children. You don’t need to be a genius mathematician to work out that pigeon & foie gras pies and wagyu beef medallions in a truffle jus do not go very far when you have 7 mouths to feed every night.
So lamb was the order of the day. Every now and then Dad would be given permission by one of the farmers he was working for to go out and kill a sheep, and he would take us kids along to join in the fun. Not everyones idea of a great family outing…but then I always remember having a good time, and learning a lot in the process about exactly where the food we eat comes from, and the sacrifice that gets made in the process. Check out this photostream on Flickr for an indepth look at the whole process from farm to table as documented by a chef who visited New Zealand recently.
Once Dad got it home and butchered up, it was Mum’s turn to take over. Whipping up chops, casseroles, and a lamb roast almost every Sunday that we children wolfed down with a fervency only a large Catholic family can, and a curtious “Thank you for the lovely tea” to Mum after the meal, before running as far as we could get away from having to do the dishes. Inevitably though… the call would come… “Arm yourself with a tea towel”… and it was all over.
So this dish is a bit of throwback to simpler times, to hearty meals cooking in one big pot on cold winters night, and to being in touch with the food thats on your plate.
For the Stew
- 500g or so of Lamb/Mutton (I used lamb steak, but anything would work as the slow cooking makes it nice and tender)
- 2 or 3 large potatoes, peeled, chopped into big chunks (I served my stew on a garlic mash, so you may or may not want to double up on potato… if you’re Irish, I’m sure you will)
- Red wine (I used Shiraz Viogner, a little for the lamb, a lot more for me)
- 1 sweet potato, peeled, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 leek, sung to softly, and then chopped with reckless abandon
- 1 Bay leaf
- 2 cloves garlic
- a few tablespoons of flour (or an equivalent amount of cornflour to thicken)
- Salt and Pepper
- Fresh Rosemary (lots of)
For the Dumplings
- 200g plain flour
- a few good sized knobs of butter
- a few cloves of garlic
- a handful of fresh italian parsley, shredded
- a few splashes of milk
How I made the stew
Cut up your meat into nice juicy chunks. Coat them in a bit of oil and season with salt and pepper, then brown them in a pot to seal them. When they are just brown on the outside. Throw in the leek, onion, garlic, and let it soften. when thats gotten a bit soft, pour in a swig or two of red wine, and let your lamb simmer away and absorb it. Then throw in a bunch of rosemary and let those flavours soak in too. Once thats done, pour in 500 ml or so of water. Enough to cover the meat and a bit more…
Then add your hard vegetables, the carrot, sweet potato, potato… Then add enough flour/cornflour to thicken the soupy stock into a hearty consistency. When you’ve got it roughly to the consistency you want, add a little more water and then turn the heat right down to just a smidge above a simmer, put the lid on the pot, and walk away…
The longer you leave this stew cooking now at this heat… the more tender and flavoursome the meat and veges are going to be at the end. So try to resist if you can.
In the meantime, you should be preparing your dumplings.
How I made dumplings
Now I am by no means a dumpling expert. This is a relatively new thing for me to do, so if anyone has some sure fire dumpling making techniques, then feel free to let me know. I bastardized a couple of recipes I found online and came up with this idea.
Soften the butter and then work it into the flour until its a crumbly consistency. Then throw in your chopped parsley, a little pinch of salt, and a splash of milk. You should now have enough moisture to work the flour into a reasonable dough.Add a bit more flour/milk to make the dough all nice and soft, and then your done. Now roll the dough out into little circles, place a knob of butter and a teaspoon of crushed garlic in the middle of the circle, and roll it up.
I made about 8 or so dumplings… but of course its easier to make more, just add more flour/milk. So now about 20 minutes or so before you want to eat your stew… Toss the dumplings on top of everything, and watch them bob along the surface, slowly cooking, and absorbing all those wonderful flavours.
I served mine simply over a mound of garlic mashed potatoes (incidently, one way to get mash potatoes really smooth is to use cream or double cream and to pass it through a sieve a couple of times after mashing), with some more fresh parsley and lots of pepper on top.
You’ll be downing a guinness and dancing like Micheal Flaherty before you know it.