Irish stew is a traditional Irish dish made from lamb or mutton as well as potatoes, onions and parsley. It originated in Ireland but appears in cookbooks all over Europe, including in Escoffier's Guide Culinaire.
Irish stew is a filling, flavourful dish made with the most readily-available ingredients. The Irish raised primarily sheep and root crops for subsistence. The sheep provided wool for warm clothing, milk for drinking and making cheese, and eventually food. Potatoes were the main food crop, prior to the potato famine. (Sometimes the potatoes are boiled separately, and added before serving, as they tend to break down faster than other ingredients.)
Irish stew, or "stobhach gaelach" as it is called in Irish, is traditionally made of lamb or mutton (mutton is from less tender sheep over two years of age), potatoes, onions, and parsley. Sometimes, lamb or mutton neckbones, shanks, and other trimmings were the only basis for the stock. Yet these would-be discards still held enough flavor after a long simmering process to do justice to a hearty bowl of stew. The root vegetables added further flavor and thickening power, as well as filling sustenance. Some cooks added turnips or parsnips, carrots, and barley when available.
Although traditionally made with lamb or mutton, Irish stew was basically a cheap meal which was thrown together with left-overs and filled out with potatoes. More recently, Irish stew has been made with cheap beef.
When the Irish people began immigrating to the United States, they naturally brought along their food traditions. The stew evolved and adapted to include the local offerings. Sheep were not as plentiful, so other types of meat were often substituted. The recipe has evolved to often include Guinness stout and paprika. Some variations have exalted this original peasant dish to near gourmet status.
- Cut the meat into good size chunks. Peel the vegetables and slice thickly. Chop the parsley.
- Choose a pot with a well-fitting lid and put in the ingredients in layers, starting and finishing with potatoes. Pour in the water and season to taste.
- Cover and put on a very low heat for about 2½ hours until the meat is tender and the potatoes have thickened the liquid. The dish may also be made with lamb, in which case it requires only 1½ hours cooking time.