Another dish of the poor, traditionally made with cheaper cuts, usually the neck (scrag-end) of mutton or kid.
When the recipe made its way into the big house and as a consequence into cook books in the 19th century it was transformed into a generic stock pot with other root vegetables, herb and spice flavourings (especially pepper), and meat from the better cuts of the animal.
In her book A Taste of Ireland Theodora Fitzgibbon had this to say. ‘It was originally made with mutton or kid (no farmer would be so foolhardy as to use his lambs for it), potatoes and onions. The pure flavour is spoilt if carrots, turnips or pearl barley are added, or if it is too liquid. A good Irish stew should be thick and creamy, not swimming in juice like soup.’
Irish stew changed dramatically during the 1800s when the blackface breed were brought from Scotland to graze hill habitats. A smaller animal than its lowland cousin, the blackface produced a sweeter tasting meat, prominent in the neck bones and meat.
Connemara hill lambs, which are slaughtered between 10 and 14 weeks, now give Irish stew a distinctive taste, especially if the better cuts of meat are combined with the neck bones.
This is the original traditional recipe tweaked to include more meat than bone, with herbs and pepper.
- 3 kg waxy potatoes, peeled, quartered
- 2 kg onions, chopped
- 1.5 litres water
- 1 kg hill lamb neck chops
- 1 kg hill lamb shoulder meat
- 30 g black pepper, freshly ground
- 25 g salt
- 1 tbsp parsley and thyme, chopped (optional)
Arrange neck bones in a large pot, turn heat to medium and allow fat to run out of the bones. Stack potatoes on top of the bones, then the onions and seasoning, more pepper than salt. Fill the pot with water three-quarters up to the level of the onions, bring to the boil. Cover, turn heat to lowest setting and cook for three hours. The result should be a thick potato stew containing pieces of meat and bones, with the onions completely melted.