This Guinness lamb stew is a twist on traditional Irish stew.
The flavor contributions of Guinness stout and the prolonged simmering transform lamb into a tender delicacy. A dish equally enjoyable on a freezing winter’s day or a rainy, summer night in the mountains.
So How Do You Make Authentic Irish Lamb Stew?
The answer is not in the Guinness. For a traditional Irish stew
you need to use the right cut of lamb and begin with bacon.
The best cut of meat to use for lamb stew is lamb shoulder. It is considered the most flavorful, its fine marbling is well suited for stewing and it becomes more tender than any other cut.
Many stores offer pre-cut lamb shoulder for stew (as seen below) or you can buy lamb shoulder, trim the fat and cut it into cubes yourself.
Traditionally Irish stews begin with bacon fat. It only makes sense. Back in the day processed vegetable oils were not common, olive oil was a luxury to Ireland, and butter burns easily – so animal fats were the grease of choice.
Once you have the meat sorted out, round up veggies and spices traditional to Irish cooking.
Potatoes (if in season use the small spring variety), carrots, onions, peas (optional) good quality beef stock (since lamb stock is not that easy to find), flour, garlic, salt and pepper and fresh herbs/spices.
Both thyme and parsley are commonly used and caraway seeds are a traditional spice for lamb stew in Ireland. If you enjoy caraway seeds and have them on hand you can use them ground. A bay leaf (optional) is complimentary to braised meats and meat stews.
As to the Guinness – I discuss its use in detail a bit further down, but be sure to include it!
The Lamb Stew Process
Slice good quality, thick cut bacon in chunks and render the fat over medium heat.
Next, remove the bacon pieces, set them on a paper napkin lined plate and turn your attention to the lamb.
Season flour with salt and pepper (plus ground caraway seed, optional) and coat the lamb chunks.
Brown them in the bacon fat, on all sides and over medium-high heat for a good sear.
Work in batches so as to not overcrowd the pot and then remove them and set aside.
Next, saute a large diced onion and minced garlic, dust them with seasoned flour once softened and then deglaze with a bottle of Guinness.
Use a wooden spatula to scrape of all the brown bits from the bottom of the pot.
Then add the beef broth, the browned lamb, and the bacon. Stir, cover and let simmer for an hour and a half.
While the lamb stews away, prep the potatoes, carrots and remaining onions. Aim for bite sized pieces.
Add the vegetables to the pot along with the fresh thyme and (if using) bay leaf. Stir, cover and simmer until the vegetables are soft.
TIP: If you want to add peas, add them at the very end, just a few minutes before the rest of the veggies are completely soft.
Once the lamb stew is done and you are ready to serve chop some fresh parsley to use as garnish.
Lamb stew can be served right away or after a night or two (be sure to store refrigerated and covered). The flavors develop and once reheated it tastes even richer.
Serve with Irish soda bread or another white bread to mop up the delicious, thick liquids of the stew. Be sure to include a flavorful ale as part of the meal.
A dark ale with a roasty character such as an Irish stout makes a wonderful companion to a bowl of this hearty stew. You can also pair it with a barley wine or a hoppy brown ale.
The Guinness Stout Addition
When I wrote earlier that adding Guinness to lamb stew is a twist on the traditional dish, I meant that traditionally the Irish made lamb stew without adding dark ale to flavor the meat. Besides, mutton, not lamb was much more commonly used in the past.
It’s logical – in the grand scheme of things lamb stews were enjoyed way before Guinness stout became a household name after the 1820s.
The roasted barley used to brew Guinness imparts a lovely roasted smokiness to the lamb via the ale addition. Along with the stout’s malty sweetness and slight acidic tinge the flavor contributions to the stew are very desirable.
Authentic Irish lamb stew tastes even better with the addition of Guinness stout. Our chef and Irish tested lamb stew recipe is easy to follow and will make you feel like a pro the very first time you make it.
- 1/2 lb bacon, thick cut, smoked recommended, cut in 1-2 inch pieces
- 1 1/2 lb lamb, shoulder recommended, trimmed of fat and cut for stew
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 2 tsp ground caraway seed (optional)
- 3 onions, one large head (diced) and two medium heads (cut in bigger chunks)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 12 oz Guinness
- 2 1/2 cups beef broth
- 2 cups carrots, cut in bite sized chunks, if using baby carrots slice diagonally
- 8 potatoes, medium-sized, cut into bite sized chunks
- 1 cup frozen peas (optional)
- 4-5 sprigs thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- parsley, for garnish
Over medium heat render the fat from the bacon. Remove bacon pieces and drain on paper towel.
Turn the heat up to medium-high. Mix flour, salt, pepper and ground caraway seeds (if using) and coat the lamb chunks in the mix. Shake of excess and brown the lamb in the bacon fat. Work in batches and then set aside. Reserve 1 tbsp of the seasoned flour.
Lower the heat back to medium and saute the large, diced onion and the minced garlic. Once softened, dust with the reserved seasoned flour and cook for another minute.
Add the Guinness to deglaze the bottom of the pot and use a wooden spatula to scrape off all brown bits. Add the beef stock and bring to simmer.
Add the browned lamb pieces back to the simmering pot, then add the bacon pieces. Cover and simmer on medium-low for 1 1/2 hours.
Add the prepped potatoes, carrots and remaining two onions. Add the thyme and bay leaf. Stir, cover and simmer for another 20-25 minutes or until the veggies are soft.
If using frozen peas, add them about 3 minutes before you turn off the heat.
Serve with white bread on the side and garnish generously with parsley. Pair with Guinness or other Irish stout.
- You can grind caraway seeds using a pestle and mortar or a coffee grinder. If you use the latter, do not worry they might take on coffee flavors. Those are already present in the Guinness:)
- Try to use lamb chunks cut in more or less uniform pieces for more even cooking. The same applies for the potatoes, carrots and onion.
- Be sure to brown the chunks of lamb on all sides.
- If using fresh peas, add them a few minutes earlier than the noted time for frozen peas which have been blanched.
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