A STEW THAT SOOTHES

Com­fort­ing dish can help when some­one is ill, a heart is bro­ken or there’s a new baby

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - CATHY BAR­ROW

Some cooks head to the kitchen at the first sign of those in need, a bit like fire­fight­ers who rush to an­swer emer­gency calls.

Home­made food can help when a friend is ill, a heart is bro­ken, a new neigh­bour has moved in or a rel­a­tive has wel­comed home a new baby. In such sit­u­a­tions, I turn to one recipe that is spirit-build­ing and tummy-warm­ing: lamb stew.

Although it is hum­ble, a stew can achieve great­ness. What is boeuf bour­guignon but stew with a fancy name? A thick gravy cloaks large pieces of ten­der meat sur­rounded by hearty veg­eta­bles that burst with flavour. It brings com­fort.

My first piece of ad­vice is to ig­nore those pack­ages of pre-cut “stew meat” in the gro­cery store. Gen­er­ally, the pieces are too small and will dis­in­te­grate into nubs — not the least bit sat­is­fy­ing. Ask the butcher to cut the meat into 2-inch cubes or 4-by-1-inch strips. Al­ter­na­tively, buy whole cuts and do it your­self.

For this stew, I use lamb shoul­der and a lamb shank. The lat­ter adds flavour and lends a vel­vety tex­ture with its bone, mar­row and col­la­gen.

Use a heavy pan that can take the heat, and brown the meat un­til it is suit­ably crusted. That deep colour will tint the all-im­por­tant gravy. The onions, too, need to brown sig­nif­i­cantly. Be­cause small and sweet cipollini onions are more widely avail­able, I was in­spired to use them in­stead of the pearl onions I typ­i­cally reach for. Any onions can be a pain to prep, but all the peel­ing is worth it for this stew.

Pour in a wine such as mal­bec, mer­lot, ca­hors: op­u­lent choices for the gravy base and equally suit­able in a glass along­side. This stew can stand up to a hearty red.

In my recipe, some veg­eta­bles cook with the meat, while oth­ers are added at the end. Pota­toes can­not take the hours of cook­ing called for, so boil them sep­a­rately and stir them in along with the peas, which go in min­utes be­fore the dish is done. But car­rots and cel­ery, which flavour both the meat and the gravy, ben­e­fit from a slow, bur­bling bath. Abun­dant herbs are tied into a bun­dle that in­cludes star anise, which sub­tly echoes some of the spice notes of the wine.

Give this stew time. Two hours in the oven or about eight hours in the slow cooker will yield a beau­ti­ful, sat­is­fy­ing meal. If pos­si­ble, give it a day’s rest in the re­frig­er­a­tor so the flavours can get to know each other.

Serve it to those who are re­cov­er­ing. This stew tastes as if it’s good for just about any­thing that ails them.

Lamb Stew with Cipollini Onions

In ad­di­tion to the stove-top-an­doven method, this stew can be done in a slow cooker; see the vari­a­tion be­low.

The sweet­ness of small, whole cipollini onions is par­tic­u­larly de­li­cious here.

But if you can’t find them, use pearl onions, which won’t take as long to brown. Frozen/de­frosted pearl onions will work in this recipe.

Serve with a green salad and warm din­ner rolls.

Make ahead: Like all slow braises, this stew tastes even bet­ter the next day. Left­overs can be spooned over pasta or rice or thinned with broth for a soupy ver­sion of the orig­i­nal. The base stew freezes like a dream.

Don’t freeze the pota­toes and peas, but rather wait to add them when re­heat­ing.

MAKES 12 SERV­INGS (3 QUARTS)

2/3 cup flour 1½ tea­spoons kosher salt, plus more as needed ½ tsp freshly ground black pep­per, plus more as needed 3 ta­ble­spoons olive oil 1 lamb shank (1 to 1½ pounds to­tal) 2½ pounds bone­less lamb shoul­der (fat trimmed), cut into 2-inch chunks 12 ounces cipollini onions, root ends re­moved (see head­note) 6 medium car­rots (trimmed), scrubbed well and cut cross­wise into 1-inch chunks 3 ribs cel­ery, cut cross­wise in ½-inch slices 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) un­salted but­ter Herb bun­dle, tied with kitchen twine (10 pars­ley stems, 6 thyme stems, 2 rosemary stems, 1 bay leaf, 1 whole star anise) 3 wide strips lemon peel (no pith) 2 cups ro­bust red wine, such as mal­bec or mer­lot 4 cups no-salt-added chicken or veal broth 10 to 15 tiny red pota­toes or 8 to 12 medium reds (1½ pounds to­tal) 1½ cups fresh or frozen pe­tite green peas

Pre­heat the oven to 325 de­grees. Cut a piece of parch­ment to fit just in­side the pot.

Place 1/3 cup of the flour on a plate or in a shal­low bowl; stir in ½ tea­spoon of the salt and ¼ tea­spoon of the black pep­per.

Heat the oil in a large (5-quart or larger) Dutch oven or a big, heavy skil­let over medium heat. Once the oil is shim­mer­ing, add the lamb shank and brown well on all sides, eight to 10 min­utes. Trans­fer to a heat­proof bowl. Keep the pan over medium heat.

Use pa­per tow­els to pat dry the pieces of lamb shoul­der. Coat the meat in the sea­soned flour, then add it to the hot pan, tak­ing care not to crowd the pan. Brown the pieces on all sides, then trans­fer them to the bowl hold­ing the shank.

Add the cipollini onions to the pan and brown them well, turn­ing at least once; this should take about 10 min­utes. Add the car­rots, cel­ery and but­ter, stir­ring to coat as the but­ter melts into the oils in the pan. Sprin­kle the re­main­ing 1/3 cup of flour over the veg­eta­bles in the pan, stir well and cook un­til the flour be­gins to brown, about five min­utes. Add the herb bun­dle, the strips of lemon peel and the re­main­ing 1 tea­spoon of salt and ¼ tea­spoon of pep­per.

Slide the lamb shank and pieces of lamb shoul­der, plus ac­cu­mu­lated juices, into the pan. Pour the wine over ev­ery­thing and turn up the heat, bring­ing the wine to a boil and cook­ing off the al­co­hol smell, three to five min­utes once it’s boil­ing. Add the broth and re­turn to a boil.

Cover the stew with the parch­ment pa­per (plac­ing it di­rectly on the sur­face) and then cover the pot with a tight-fit­ting lid. Trans­fer to the mid­dle oven rack and cook un­til the meat is ten­der, one-and-a-half to two hours.

Mean­while, put the pota­toes in a medium saucepan. Cover with water and add a big pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; cook un­til ten­der, 10 to 20 min­utes, de­pend­ing on the pota­toes’ size. Drain.

Once the stew is fin­ished, dis­card the herb bun­dle and strips of lemon peel. (If the star anise has slipped out, be sure to search for it; no­body wants to bite into that.) Re­move the lamb shank from the stew; de­tach the meat and re­turn it to the pot in chunks. Dis­card the bone.

Add the cooked pota­toes to the stew, then stir in the peas, which will cook through with the heat of the stew in a minute or two. Taste, and add more salt and/or pep­per, as needed.

Serve pip­ing hot, in shal­low bowls.

Vari­a­tion: To make this stew in the slow cooker, fol­low the direc­tions above, brown­ing the shank and flour-coated meat, then brown­ing the onions, and cook­ing the al­co­hol off the wine. If you have a slow cooker with a sauté func­tion, those steps may be ac­com­plished in the slow cooker. Com­bine the meats, onions, car­rots, cel­ery, sea­son­ings and broth (ev­ery­thing ex­cept the pota­toes and peas) in the slow cooker. If you have a dual-heat slow cooker, bring the stew to a boil on high be­fore re­duc­ing the heat to low; cook for seven to nine hours, un­til the meat is ten­der. Re­move the shank from the stew and take the meat off the bone, cut­ting it into chunks be­fore putting it back in the slow cooker. Add the cooked pota­toes and heat for another few min­utes, un­til the pota­toes are warmed through, then stir in the peas.

Per serv­ing (us­ing chicken broth): 480 calo­ries, 27 grams pro­tein, 25 g car­bo­hy­drates, 27 g fat, 11 g sat­u­rated fat, 100 mil­ligrams choles­terol, 290 mg sodium, 4 g di­etary fi­bre, 5 g sugar

DEB LIND­SEY, FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

For this stew, I use lamb shoul­der and a lamb shank. The lat­ter adds flavour and lends a vel­vety tex­ture with its bone, mar­row and col­la­gen.

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