The defining element of Irish stew is the use of lamb neck, or scrag.
Traditionally it is made more like a casserole than a stew. Actually it bares an uncanny resemblance to boulangère potatoes. Lamb, potato rounds, and other vegetables are layered in a casserole, then covered with stock or water and baked in an oven.
Lamb neck is a very tough cut of meat. I sear and braise the necks to tenderize, then use the shredded meat and cooking liquid to make the stew.
Once the necks are very tender to the tip of a paring knife, I remove them from the liquid and let cool briefly. While the necks are still warm I fold back the meat and remove the neck bones in one piece. There is also a large band of yellowish elastin that should be removed. You can see it running down the centre of the neck meat below:
- 2 lamb necks
- 75 g bacon fat
- 240 g yellow onion, 3/4″ dice (roughly 1 large onion)
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 200 g carrot, 3/4″ dice (about 3 medium carrots)
- 200 g celery, 3/4″ dice (about 2 large ribs celery)
- 1/2 tbsp dried herbs (I use a mix of thyme, rosemary, and savoury)
- 75 g all-purpose flour
- 1 x 341 mL bottle ale
- 375 g turnip, 1″ dice (rutabaga for all you moderns…. about 1 medium rutabaga)
- 425 g yellow potato, 1″ dice (about 2 smallish potatoes)
- spinach or kale
Part One: Cooking the Necks to obtain super tender meat and flavourful broth
- Season the lamb necks with salt and pepper. Sear, either in a pan or a very hot oven, until amber in colour.
- Transfer the seared scrags to a pot. Cover with cold water and put over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. Regularly skim the surface of the water with a ladle to remove foam and fat.
- Gently simmer the scrags until very tender when poked with a knife. This will take at least a few hours.
- Remove the necks from the liquid. Let cool, then remove the meat from the necks. Vertebrae and a very hard bit of yellowish connective tissue. Reserve 450 g shredded meat for the stew. The rest of the meat can be used for other preparations.
- Reserve 1 L of the cooking liquid for the stew. The remainder of the liquid can be reserved for another purpose.
Part Two: Making the Stew
- Melt bacon fat in a separate pot. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, and dried herbs. Sweat the vegetables until the onions are starting to turn translucent.
- Add the flour and cook briefly.
- Slowly add the ale while stirring. A thick sauce should form.
- Slowly add the 1 L of lamb stock. Return mix to a gentle simmer.
- Add turnips and potatoes. Return mix to a gentle simmer. Simmer until turnips and potatoes are tender.