There's a sudden nip in the air, and with October just around the corner, I think Irish Stew could be just the ticket.
Traditionally, Irish Stew consists of just lamb or mutton, onions, potatoes and water. Purists will tell you that carrots should not be added, but I was having a chat with an Irish friend about this recently, and she insisted that she includes carrots in her version. The secret with Irish Stew (as with any stew), is to cook it for a long time at a low temperature. You want the meat to break down, and the potato to disintegrate slightly- so that it thickens up the sauce.
Take a neck of lamb, and chop it up into chunks. Neck of lamb has to be one of my all-time favourite cuts. It's cheap, and cooks beautifully, becoming soft enough, after an hour or so of slowish cooking, to cut with a fork.
Brown the lamb in a pan with a knob of unsalted butter and a teaspoon of oil. The oil will help to stop the pan burning. Transfer the browned lamb to a casserole dish.
Next sauté some sliced onions in the butter, and once they've cooked add them to the casserole. Peel some carrots, and slice them into quarters, lengthways. Add them to the casserole- on top of the onions. The aim is to build up your vegetables in layers. Add another layer of onions. Finally, add some peeled potatoes, which you have chopped into quarters, lengthways. Season with sea salt and ground black pepper.
Now pour in some stock (ideally lamb stock if you have it, other meat stocks will be fine) and add a sprig of thyme. Cook the casserole in a low to medium oven, until the lamb is tender and on the point of breaking down. You want the potatoes and carrots to remain intact, but yet at the same time, to become slightly soft around the edges. On a low heat this could take up to two hours, so check the stew from time to time.
When you reckon its done, take the casserole out of the oven, and have a look at it. There's a strong chance that you will have a thin sauce, so I would suggest that you thicken it up: spoon out the meat and vegetables and reserve. Pour the sauce through a sieve into a clean pan and mix in a beurre manié (flour and butter mixed into a ball), until the sauce is smooth and velvety. Bubble away for a few minutes. The sauce will thicken.
Pour it back over the lamb and vegetables. Check the seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if it's needed. Finally, serve with generous handfuls of chopped parsley.
Simple, but utterly wholesome and surprisingly satisfying. Don't stint on the parsley: it can take it.