On a drive across the island of Ireland one summer, three things were guaranteed: sheep crossing the road; pubs in every village; and rainbows after daily rains.
The traditional Irish stew, still served in pubs throughout Ireland, dates back to the 16th century. Many comfort foods are steeped in peasant tradition and passed down from family to family, and one-pot meals warm the house and our hearts. The method of stewing was brought to Ireland by the Celts after the sixth century when they introduced bronze cauldrons.
Stew is a combination of solid food ingredients, usually tougher cuts of meat and vegetables, cooked in a liquid to create a gravy. Typically the tougher cuts of meat are naturally leaner, therefore the moist cooking method of stewing creates a more palatable texture and mouth feel. Meat can be dusted with flour before it’s browned, resulting in a slowly thickened product. If all-purpose flour is replaced with whole wheat flour, a smidge more fiber and vitamins and minerals add to the dish. Water is the usual liquid choice for stewing, but stock, wine, and even beer — Guinness for some Irish stews — can be substituted.
The traditional Irish stew or stobhach originated as lamb or mutton (sheep over one year of age), potatoes, onions, and parsley. All the ingredients are combined and cooked over low heat for two hours. Over the years it has evolved to include a variety of root vegetables. Both the potato and mutton were used frequently in Irish cooking because of their availability and affordability. The old and non-viable animals ended up in the cooking pot only after years of wool and milk production.
To help make traditional lamb stew The Better Option lamb stew, I have replaced the cut of meat with the leaner lamb shoulder and reduced the quantity from two pounds to one. In place of regular chicken stock, I’ve used low sodium. I’ve swapped baby white potatoes with skin for peeled potatoes, increasing the fiber, and I I’ve added rutabaga with the other vegetables and parsnip in the last 30 minutes.
The Better Option Irish Stew
1 large onion chopped
1 tbs. olive oil
1 pound lamb shoulder, cut into 1” cubes
1 pound white baby potatoes
5 carrots peeled
1 rutabaga diced
2 parsnips peeled
4 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 bunch fresh parsley chopped
1 sprig thyme
1 cup whole wheat flour
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, cook the onions in oil, on medium-high heat until they are translucent. Add the dried thyme and stir. Add the floured lamb (shake off excess) and brown on high heat to seal in juices. Add carrots and rutabaga. Pour in the chicken stock so that it almost covers the meat and vegetables. Season with salt and pepper, and add fresh parsley. Cover and cook on low heat for two hours, being careful not to boil. Place potatoes and parsnips on top of the stew, cover and cook for 30 minutes until meat and potatoes are fork tender.
Makes 6 servings
Calories: 300 Total Fat: 12g Sat Fat: 4.8g Chol: 56g Sod: 150mg Carbs: 24 Fiber: 3g Pro:18g
Lori Salerno, M.S., R.D.N, C.P.T. is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified personal trainer who provides medical nutrition therapy to groups and individuals in Santa Monica and recipe and menu analysis for restaurants nationwide. www.eatwelldailynutrition.com.