LOVELY LAMB STEW
A Cook's Guide to Grains
by Jenni Muir
Stew is not one of the English language's most enticing words and, as a result, many wonderful traditional dishes are being ignored. Revisiting the old-fashioned British lamb stew was one of the great delights of compiling this book. The preparation is almost mindless and yet with long, slow cooking the ingredients meld into a creation that tastes as though it took a clever chef a lot of effort to produce. There is no need for side dishes or tricksy presentation. All that's required to make it look sumptuous is a variety of vegetables.
• 100g/1/2 cup semi-pearled or pot barley
• 2 tbsp oil
• 950g/2lb 2oz lamb chops with bones, such as those from the neck end
• 2 small parsnips, cubed
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 1 large leek, thickly sliced
• 250g/9oz carrots, cubed
• 250g/9oz swede, cubed
• 4 small potatoes, quartered
• 1 bouquet garni, made by tying together a small length of celery, a bay leaf, a few sprigs of thyme and some parsley stalks
• some water, stock, ale or cider, to cover
• a handful of chopped parsley
• salt and pepper
Put the barley in a saucepan, cover generously with water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes to part-cook it.
Meanwhile, in a large flameproof casserole, heat the oil. Working in batches, add the lamb and brown the meat on each side. Remove to a plate and add the parsnips, onion, leek, carrots and swede to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes until they begin to soften. Scoop any excess fat from the pan. Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350°F/Gas 4.
Drain the barley and add it to the pot with the browned meat, potatoes and bouquet garni. Season with some salt and pepper, then pour in just enough water, stock, ale or cider to come about 1cm/1/2in under the top of the ingredients in the pot. Cover and bring to the boil, then transfer the casserole to the oven for 2 hours.
About 15 minutes before the end of cooking, stir the chopped parsley into the casserole. Remove the bouquet garni and season to taste before serving.
• Terrific though barley is, this dish also works well with short-grain brown rice and wheatberries.
• In his book Appetite', Nigel Slater suggests that stews such as this one are good made with duck or guinea fowl as well as more popular chicken.
• If preferred, replace the root vegetables in this dish with canned tomatoes, a little celery, a bell pepper and some black or green olives. Add less liquid (you could use wine) to compensate for the juiciness of the tomatoes.