I went for a long leisurely walk yesterday morning. After a glorious Indian summer weekend that was better than 95% of the last 6 months, the weather had officially taken a turn. It was a touch chilly, not quite but almost drizzly, overcast and generally blah. The last of the leaves were turning and everyone seemed to be in a hurry to be somewhere else. I alone took my time because I could. It’s one of the benefits of working nights – there’s time to stop and breathe, the running paths are empty, no lines in the grocery stores and the washing machines are always available in my building. Everything else about working nights and weekends generally sucks.
Strolling through my mostly vacant neighborhood, I felt the urge to make something warm and hearty. Chicken pot pie? Baked ziti? An apple pie? How about a stew of some kind? A quick freezer inventory was in order. As I’ve mentioned, I usually have a lot of crazy stuff in my freezer. Way in the back corner, I found a pound of lamb stew meat behind won ton wrappers, an ancient bag of butternut squash and unbaked empanadas. It was from my meat CSA and was some damn good stuff. Right on … a lamb stew was in the foreseeable future.
This weekend I’m off to Las Vegas to help cook for the Carnivale du Vin, a fantastic event Emeril (yes, that Emeril) throws every year to benefit his foundation. This year there are 26 chefs and 26 vitners for a tasting dinner, auction and live entertainment from the Neville Brothers. Hot damn. Say what you will about Emeril but I have a lot of respect for the guy. In the last five years he’s raised over 7.5 million for his foundation and the auction items are jaw droopingly cool. He really calls in some amazing favors. Last year was my first with the event and I saw firsthand how great he is to his staff and how loyal they are in return. That’s not something you see often in this business or any business, sadly enough. It was rather nice.
Anyway, back to the point of this tangent. In my event swag bag (they took great care of the help) was a bottle of Carnivale du Vin amber ale from Abita – a New Orleans brewery – made just for the event. I stuck the bottle in my suitcase and headed to the airport. Why would I lug one beer all way home? What am I thinking sometimes? Absentmindedly, I unpacked and put it on a shelf in my liquor cabinet. It sat there for the last year, completely forgotten.
Looking for a bottle of calvados a few days ago (how often do you use that?), I found that slightly dusty beer and smiled. I decided to use it in my stew to honor this weekend’s upcoming festivities. So rather than an Irish Ale Lamb Stew, I concocted something uniquely American – Wisconsin lamb, local vegetables from the farmers market and an American craft brew. It was mighty delicious. Truth is, any full bodied amber or brown beer would do but I like to think my stew had a little extra oomph from that New Orleans brew.
A quick note … I’ve purposely not thickened this stew at the end of cooking. It’s a hearty flavorful broth with vegetables and lamb and is probably better described as a chunky soup than a stew. I rather dislike a thick, gloppy stew and prefer it this way but if you’d like it thicker make a beurre manie by mixing 1 Tablespoon softened butter with 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour until a paste is formed. Mix this into the stew liquid and simmer for 5 additional minutes to thicken.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: HIGH. When it’s cold out and you’re wrapped up in your snuggie cradling a warm bowl of rich, chunky stew in front of the ‘tube there is nothing better, nothing so comforting, nothing more cozy.
AMERICAN LAMB & ALE STEW
3 pieces of thick cut bacon, cut into small dice
kosher salt & black pepper
1 pound lamb shoulder, cut in ¾” cubes
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
12 ounces amber or brown ale
1 teaspoons sugar
7 ounces pearl onions, peeled (a scant cup) (note: mine were purple! so pretty!)
½ pound baby red potatoes, halved or quartered if large
3 carrots, peeled, cut crosswise into 1/2” pieces (about 2/3 cup)
1 large celery stalk, cut into 1/2” pieces (about 2/3 cup)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley + additional for garnish
1 teaspoons dried thyme
2/3 cups frozen peas
- Peel the pearl onions by blanching in boiling water for 1 minute, running under cold water to cool. Trim the stem and root ends and slip off the outer skins. Set aside.
- In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, sauté the diced bacon until crisp. Transfer to a bowl leaving bacon fat in the pan.
- Pat the lamb dry with several paper towels, season with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour, shaking off excess.
- Over medium-high heat in the same saucepan, sear the meat on all sides in the bacon fat until browned. Channel your inner Julia here – you don’t want to crowd the lamb or it will steam rather than sear. Cook in 2 or 3 batches if you need to and add the extra olive oil between batches if needed.
- Transfer lamb to a bowl and sauté the chopped garlic for 1 minute until fragrant.
- Add the chicken stock and half the beer to the pot and bring to a boil, scraping up all the tasty bits (the fond) from the bottom of the pot.
- Add the lamb and any juices from the bowl, the cooked bacon and sugar to the pot.
- Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer for 40 minutes.
- Add remaining beer, pearl onions, potatoes, carrots, celery, parsley and thyme to the pot.
- Cover and simmer until vegetables and lamb are tender, about 30 minutes longer.
- Add peas and cook until heated through – about 5 minutes.
- Garnish with additional chopped parsley.
- Can be made 2 days ahead. Chill stew uncovered until cool; cover and keep chilled. Reward before serving.