Happy St Patrick’s Day! It’s the day we all get to pretend to be Irish, and don’t you think that a man who dedicated his life to religion and winning over the rough tribes of a country he wasn’t even native to would be happy to know that his feast day is now an excuse to get embarrassingly wasted on green beer? Let’s find another way to mark the day, shall we?
As it’s still technically winter (though the crocuses don’t know that), there’s a bit of a damp chill in the air here, which inevitably makes me want something warm and comforting (and easily reheatable for enjoying later on in the week). How nice, then, that there’s such a thing as Irish stew—a rich, filling dish that’s just dandy with some royal Irish soda bread. This recipe is from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, whom I’ve come to trust implicitly when it comes to traditional foods. The man knows his stuff and doesn’t tend to get too fussy. He, in turn, got this from photographer Simon Wheeler’s mother, who’s Irish, so there’s some genuine pedigree. Like many stews, it’s hugely adaptable to whatever you have on hand. No barley? Fine, leave it out. Half a head of cabbage you want to use up? Toss it in. And if you’re looking for a little pre-dinner apertif, why not change things up with one of these Irish-inspired cocktails instead of the usual beer?
Mrs Wheeler’s Irish Stew
Recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, by way of Simon Wheeler
4 large lamb or mutton chump chops
4 neck chops (optional)
1 kg/2 ½ lbs floury potatoes, cut in half or quarters, if large
2 large or 4 small-to-medium onions, peeled and left whole if small, cut in half if large
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 medium turnip, peeled and quartered
1 rounded T pearl barley
About 750ml water or lamb stock (use the lamb stock if you don’t have neck chops)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Trim the chops only if they are very fatty and certainly don’t remove all the fat. Put the meat, vegetables and pearl barley in a pot with enough water or stock just to cover them. Season well with salt and pepper and bring to a gentle simmer.
Cook, covered but with the lid slightly ajar, for 1 1/2–2 hours, until the meat is completely tender. (You could do this in the oven at 120C/gas mark 4.) Check and adjust the seasoning, being generous with the pepper.
Serve in warm bowls or plates, with plenty of the potato-thickened liquor and with chopped parsley sprinkled over each serving.