“It’s the neck that he wants”
Last week I decided to check out my local butcher’s and during my conversation at the counter I said I was looking to make an Irish Stew. There was something encouraging about the butcher at the back of the room overhearing, and telling the other staff, “it’s the neck he wants”. Furthermore seeing him say “I’ll cut you some now” and going to the fridge to pull out a neck and start portioning it.
Of course very much being a celebrated, home-cooked dish, there are various versions of the recipe. For me this was an opportunity to use a less popular cut of meat with the ingredients I had to make a dish from where I am originally from. Although I come from a Chinese family, I was born in Ireland and have spent most of my years growing up there so although I may not have had it as often as my friends, it’s a dish that is still important to me.
As I stated prior there will be different ingredients you could use but what I wanna get across is that the technique is the important thing to consider. The neck is a suitable ingredient because it benefits from a slow cooking process such as stewing. In the same regard, dense root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots can survive the long process better than others. At the end of the day, it is a stew so cuts like beef shin or ox tail could be the meat while turnips can be one of the vegetables.
We live in a time where availability of ingredients is plentiful so try not to get too bogged down with the word ‘tradition’. Recipes should inspire you more than simply commanding you.
A mirepoix is a rough cut of vegetables but in college it was the phrased used in particular for the the onions, carrots and celery we would use as the base for many soups and sauces. Its really an amazing trio that I will most likely be using time and time again in this blog.
As in my Toad in the Hole recipe we brown the meat to develop the flavours. Never overfill a pan when frying or else the shear quantity of fat starts to boil the meat rather than fry it.
It’s not necessary but it can make for easy extraction if you tie your herbs together to create a bouquet garni. Its a rough dish and so tasks like this and roughly cutting your vegetables can be done while your meat is on the go.
After the meat is set aside, I would use the same pan to sweat my vegetables. This is where the effort for the dish comes in. Its the patience to develop the flavours of your ingredients as opposed to throwing everything into the pot from the start. Its that little effort that makes the difference in a dish like this.
Simply add the meat, herbs, stock and potatoes and simmer for around 1.5 hours. There will be fat and impurities to skim off afterwards. When all is done the meat will fall off the bone and the stock will be asking for some crusty bread to mop it up. As with many stews it tastes better the next day and will naturally thicken over time.
It’s not the most glamorous dish and has definitely been a challenge to photograph but it’s a comfort dish that packs a lot of flavour and celebrates a cut of meat that is not widely used nowadays. As such I hope you enjoy my version of Irish Stew.
- 1 tbps oil
- Around 1.2kg lamb neck/fillets- fillets diced ~£12.00
- 3 sticks of celery-chopped -£0.25
- 1 white onion- peeled/chopped -£0.16
- 3 carrots- peeled/chopped -£0.18
- 3 thyme sprigs – picked -£0.15
- 2 bay leaves -£0.10
- 1 lt vegetable stock -£0.38
- 1 kg potatoes- peeled/chopped -£1.00
Total Cost for 4 servings ~ £3.56
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add the meat and brown. Remove and set aside.
- Using the same saucepan, on a low heat, add the celery, carrots and onions and sweat for approximately 5 minutes.
- Return the meat to the saucepan along with the thyme and bay leaves. Add the vegetable stock to cover. Bring to the boil and add the potatoes. Season with salt and black pepper.
- Cover and simmer for 1.5 hours or until the meat is tender.
- Skim the top of the stew to remove excess fat and impurities. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Adjust seasoning to taste.
- Divide between serving bowls with a mix of neck and fillet in each bowl. Serve with crusty bread.