Let’s Make Dinner with Mac Millhone
Spring Lamb Stew
Spring brings us a bunch or great things, not the least of which is Navarin or Spring lamb stew. Simmering tender lamb slowly with young vegetables until it is fork-tender and totally delicious is an art practiced around the world. As you might have guessed, there are only about a million “best recipes” for this dish using a pack of different ingredients and techniques. This all, of course, adds to the interest and fun. Reading recipes from many traditions gives you a lot of options. Experimenting with some of these ideas allows you to create a rite of Spring all your own.
Use your butcher’s experience and knowledge whenever you can, especially when buying lamb. You will find that it is imported from several countries and also raised domestically. I prefer U.S. lamb for it’s relative size (bigger) and predictable taste. Feel free to disagree. Buy neck, leg or shoulder for this dish. Use the nicest vegetables you can find. I frequently end up with peas from the freezer section when I don’t like the fresh. It is important to use a heavy Dutch oven or pot with a lid for even heating and less chance of burning. The last time I made it, I used a six-quart clay Dutch oven and the results were world-class.
As always, you need sea or kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and good olive oil.
2 1/2 to 3 lbs. boned lamb
2 Tbs. flour
1 medium onion chopped
2 or 3 carrots chopped
2 Tbs. tomato paste
2 cups chicken stock
Several sprigs of thyme and parsley tied into a bundle
1 cup dry red or white wine
4 medium white potatoes peeled and diced
2 cups peas fresh or frozen
Preheat oven to 350. Trim lamb, discarding all fell (the shiny silver stuff) and fat, then cut into one to two inch cubes. Heat two tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium heat. Lightly salt and pepper the cubed lamb and toss it gently with flour to coat, shaking off any excess. When oil is shimmering stir-fry half of the lamb until nicely browned. This is the important part where flavor and color are set. Remove cooked lamb to a clean plate, adjust oil as necessary and repeat with remaining lamb. This cooking half-at-a-time procedure keeps the meat from steaming, which would result in gray and not-so-appetizing meat. Adjust oil as needed and stir-fry onions and carrots until slightly browned. Add tomato paste and stock. Reduce by half then add meat with accumulated juices herb bundle and wine.
Bring it to a boil cover and put into preheated oven. Let it braise for one and one-half hours. Remove lid and check liquid level. It should reach about half to three fourths of the way to the top of the meat. Adjust with wine, stock or water if necessary. Stir stew and add potatoes, then check seasoning. It will need salt at this point perhaps — more than you would think. Re-cover pot and place back in the oven for another hour. Add peas stir and check seasoning. From here you can let it rest for up to an hour on the counter or give it 10 minutes rest and serve it. The peas only need a few minutes in the heat. Remove herb bundle before serving. This dish is great served warm, so don’t worry about hurrying it to the table.
You now have the basic idea. A great one-dish meal. You will be happy with just the stew and crusty bread. But what else could you do? Let’s see. Forget the potatoes and serve over couscous, rice or pasta. Add artichoke hearts or tomatoes. Parsnips, turnips, Winter squash or Middle Eastern spices. Top with yogurt, sour cream, chopped parsley, chives or mint leaves. Have fun experimenting and enjoy the Spring.
Mac, a retired airline captain, is currently living in Annapolis. He enjoys researching food, cooking and baking. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org