"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Friday, June 13, 2008

Ballymaloe Irish Stew

I'm sorry. Darina Allen makes me cranky.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure she's a lovely person and that we would hit it off just fine. And wouldn't I love to go to her cooking school in Ireland! My employers took their five adult children there for a family reunion/holiday and they had a fabulous time.

It's her cookbooks that make me nuts. Her list of ingredients are essentially what she has available to her, in her garden, on her farm, at her local market on and the wharves. And they're pretty specific.

So I applaud Gourmet for trying to translate this Ballymaloe Irish Stew into something using supermarket ingredients, but folks, I have to admit to being baffled, and I don't know if the glitch is in the original recipe or the translation.

The first step is to render the fat from the shoulder chops. So far so good.

The second step is to sear the chops, then set aside. OK, but there are still bones in those chops--far from chunks of stew meat.

Third step: toss your carrots and boiling onions in the pan with the lamb fat. No problem and I approve.

Fourth: layer the stew in a stew pot. Lamb, carrots and onions, lamb, potatoes. I like the idea of layering but am still baffled by the chops going in whole with the bones. Finally I decided to cut the bones out and leave the chops as close to whole as possible. Maybe in the cooking, I'm thinking, the meat sort of falls apart.

Fifth: deglaze the pan with 2.5 cups of stock. Yay for deglazing, but....2.5 cups only comes about halfway up through the stew ingredients. Maybe, I'm thinking, the ingredients release juices that contribute to the stock...but carrots and potatoes aren't really that juicy, are they?

Sixth--cook in oven or simmer gently stovetop. I went the stovetop route.

Seventh--get the broth out (tipping the pot gently doesn't really work--I had to resort to a colander), make a roux, and thicken your stock. Fine. But it's still only about 2 cups of liquid. Which really only just clings to the meat and veg.

Now, I'm making this stew for one of my cooking clients (to be delivered today), and although my husband and son would happily eat this as is, I need to produce an actual
liquidy stew for her. My seat-of-the-pants improv (the one that allows me not to go back to the store) is to thaw out some turkey gravy and thin it a bit with canned beef stock and sherry. I'll also be cutting that meat up into stew-sized chunks.

Should you feel like giving this recipe a whirl (and you'd have to have the book as it's not on Epicurious) I'd suggest doubling the amount of broth, and boning/trimming/chunking the shoulder chops.


M said...

In traditional European cookery, stews did use cuts of meat that were bone in. Whether it's this Irish stew or an Italian dish like cacciatore (the original Hunters Stew), they were the first one pot meals and boning meat would have been considered fussing. It's perfectly acceptable to modify them by using chunks of meat, like beef or lamb. I wish the magazine had made that distinction, and mentioned that the stew wouldn't have the amount of liquid that a modern cook might be more accustomed to, rather than leaving readers like yourself on the spot. Let us know how this turned out.

Although I own two of her cookbooks, and used to watch her series when it aired in the States, at times Darina Allen goes up my nose sideways.. she can get overly twee for my taste.

Melissa Bach Palladino said...

Hey, I learned something new today! I love that.

Had no idea this was traditional European, but you're right--it would have been nice for a mention of that in the head notes. And hardly any liquid is traditional too? It doesn't seem quite right to call that stew, but different strokes for different folks.

Thanks for chiming in!

T said...

Just to note, it's actually quite important to leave the bones in, as they give it a really wonderful flavour. Here's an explanation http://www.irishabroad.com/culture/kitchen/darina.asp?strid=771
For my version of her stew, I add about 1/2 C of barley and no roux. Also, I add quite a lot of liquid (5C) and the whole thing pretty much fills my Creuset, with just the potatoes sitting on top. Using baking paper to cover the stew before putting on the lid helps to keep the juices/ steam in so you don't need to check the water levels. I haven't tried it with water instead of stock (I use beef stock), but I imagine this would work, as the bones help to make a stock anyway as the stew cooks. If you have time, it's worth leaving the stew overnight in the fridge and removing the cold layer of fat the next day. This is an easy way to deglaze and also enriches the flavour. This stew is absolutely superb when done right and I highly recommend trying again if you weren't convinced the first time.

Melissa Bach Palladino said...

Those sound like good fixes--I'm in total agreement that it needs more liquid (and I often use the chill-overnight-technique to get the fat out of the stock).

But I still don't like the idea of bones in the stew! I can see the flavor angle, so maybe I'm just too fastidious. When I first made it the issue was really that I was delivering to a little old lady (bones in food = bad). I'll give this recipe another shot--thanks for the encouragement. :-)