IRISH STEW with lamb and Guinness

In February of 2004 I returned to Ireland for the first time in 11 years. I was way, way overdue. We flew into Dublin, and as plans turned out we needed to head west and return to Dublin later. After a long, hard day of travel and a 3-hour drive to Galway, this is what was waiting for us on the stove when we got to our friends' house in Loughrea, Co. Galway. I don't think we could have had a better meal waiting for us.

One of the great things about Irish cooking is that the raw ingredients are just about the best anywhere -- the milk, the butter, the cream, the eggs, the cheese, the beef, pork and lamb ... just gorgeous. I can safely say you probably haven't had lamb until you've had Connemara lamb, so find the best quality stuff you can for this dish. It's hearty, filling and great for a cold night.

Our friend Amanda in Co. Galway got this recipe from a friend's mom in Killarney, Co. Kerry, so it doesn't get any more authentic than this. Still, it contains a couple of small tweaks from me and an idea from our friend Terri, chef and co-owner of Auntie Em's Kitchen in Eagle Rock. (Thanks for the recipe, Mrs. O'Sullivan!)

For a real Irish country touch, include the barley -- cook it for 20 minutes in 3 cups of lamb or beef stock, then add when you return the meat to pot with the vegetables.

Cut off some of the parsley leaves and chop enough to make 2 tablespoons; reserve. Cut off some parsley stems, and tie them into a bundle with a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme; reserve.

Season the meat with salt and brown the meat in a little oil. Remove and reserve, and sprinkle with a little flour, shaking off excess. Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery to the pan and sauté, tossing to coat with the fat. Add the Guinness and deglaze, scraping up any caramelized meat juices. Add the potatoes, return the meat to the pot (and the barley if you're using it). Add enough stock to barely cover, cook over medium heat until just boiling, then reduce heat to very low and simmer 2 - 3 hours, until the meat is tender, stirring occasionally.

Check seasonings, add salt and pepper to taste, then remove from heat, stir in parsley and the cornstarch (mixed into 4 teaspoons water) and stir. Cook over low heat for a few more minutes to thicken. Serve with plenty of Irish brown or white soda bread, tea and more Guinness if you like.

YIELD: 6 generous servings

Is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras. (Or, "hunger is a tasty sauce" ... this'll certainly satisfy it.)


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Chuck Taggart   (e-mail chuck)