Homemade Lamb Stew
Hope everyone had a fantastic St Patty’s day. I guess this recipe is a day late but I wanted to share with you a crock-pot recipe for lamb stew that my wife prepared for some friends visiting from out of town. She made the lamb stew in our new 6 and 1/2 quart programmable touch screen slow cooker from Crock-Pot.
Fancy, right? I replaced my 3 and 1/2 quart crock because it was ancient, too small and didn’t have a timer for auto shut off, so when it came time to replace it, I went all out!
We made this stew in a crock-pot but you could also prepare it in a large Dutch Oven. I love making stews in the oven with my Le Creuset 9-quart oval French oven. If you go this route, it will take less time and you can brown your ingredients in the same cookware as you braise them in.
About the Lamb Cut
The meat cut you use for lamb stew is important. You want it to come from the shoulder area – you have the Shoulder Arm Picnic, Shoulder Arm Roast, Blade (Boston) Roast, & Blade Steak to choose from. These cuts are much less expensive than the meat you would purchase for grilled lamb chops or leg of lamb or lamb roast and in my opinion have more flavor when slow cooked.
As with any meat you’re going to braise (cook for a long time partially submerged in a liquid)m you need these tougher cuts because they are more fibrous and hold up better with long slow cooking. The moist heat breaks down the connective tissue, including collagen which melts and turns into gelatin that gives the sauce that amazing lip-smacking body. You don’t want a lot of extra fat, however, so you might have to trim some off before cutting your meat into 1 and 1/2″ chunks.
I found some already-cubed lamb shoulder meat at my local Farmer’s Market butcher shop called Stolzfus Meats. The butcher, “Bongo” Dan, has spent years butchering local meat for the market and is a wealth of information when it comes to all meat cuts. If you’re wondering how he got his nickname”¦.I happened to see him one afternoon at a Phillies game at Citizen’s Bank Park on the Jumbo Screen playing air bongos for the Bongo Cam. Priceless!
This recipe for lamb stew takes about 1/2 hour to prep and then 5 hours in the crock pot set on low. If you prepare it in a Dutch Oven in the oven, it cooks for approximately 2 hours. Either way, it can be served right away, but like many braises, it tastes better the next day, if you can wait that long to eat it! When making this in the crock pot, I like to brown the lamb meat before braising in the oven for a couple of reasons.
1. In my opinion, the browned meat looks better than meat you just throw into the crock pot.
2. Searing the meat gives it a brown crust that adds an additional layer of flavor.
2 pounds lamb shoulder meat trimmed of fat and cut into 1 and 1/2 inch cubes
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
Flour for dredging
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 and 1/2 cups lamb stock (chicken stock if you can't find lamb stock)
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1/4 - 1/2 pound of mushrooms
1 or 2 sprigs of fresh thyme (dried will work too)
2 - 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
How To Prepare At Home
Season the meat with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Be sure to shake off any excess flour. If you don't, the flour can burn and will make a mess on the bottom of the pan. Just a light dusting is fine.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a preheated fry pan over medium high heat. When it starts to shimmer but is not smoking, add the meat and brown all sides. Don't let the meat touch, so if your pan isn't big enough, brown in batches. The best tool for turning the meat is a pair of kitchen tongs, one of the most important tools in your kitchen. When the meat is browned, transfer it to the crock-pot.
Time to saute the onions in the same pan. Reduce the heat to medium, add the remaining tablespoon of oil and then the onions. This is a good time to season with a little salt but not too much. Cook the onions until deep golden brown, being sure to stir frequently so they don't burn.
Add 1/2 cup stock to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen any of the brown bits (fond) stuck to the bottom of it. Add the fresh thyme. Add the onions and the deglazing liquid to the crock pot.
Add the sliced carrots and mushrooms to the crock pot along with the remaining 2 cups of stock, cover and set to low. I have read it helps to first place a layer of aluminum foil over the top of the crock pot and then the cover. Not sure if this helps but sometimes I make the effort.
Cook on the low setting for about 5 hours or until the meat is tender.
Many recipes I read say to spoon off any fat that accumulates at the top. I have never found this easy to do but I know it is worth a try. Sometimes I make a stew the day before so I can let the fat rise to the top and congeal when refrigerated. Then all I have to do is spoon out the layer of congealed fat. Enough about fat.
Add the parsley to the pot, stir and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. If the sauce is too thin, you can always make a quick thickener with a little flour or cornstarch mixed with water (a slurry) and add it to the pot. The only problem with this is that, if you don't bring the starch up to a boil, your sauce can taste a little, well, starchy. So, if you do find you have to thicken the sauce, you might have to turn the crock pot to high for a little while to cook off any starchy taste.
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