Ok, we’re just going to come right out and say it because we’ve been friends for a while now and a friendship built on food is a friendship built on the most sacred of bonds, so we’d like to think you won’t run scared when we say that it’s time to take this relationship to the next level.
The Stew Level.
And because you can’t fathom that we could possibly be talking about meat, you say, Stew? That’s right, we say. Like Stew Reynolds, that kid from middle school who never fully grasped concepts like “personal space” and “jokes,” you say? Uh…no, we say, but we know Stew was your first kiss even though you maintain that it was Jimmy Veraldi. Nice try: We were there, holding your history text book and watching out for your mom.
We are, in fact, talking about meat.
The thing is, that while we are pro-stew in general, the particular stew in question isn’t just any stew. It’s is our Roasted Vegetable Lamb Stew and it’s really, really good. Drop-what-you’re-doing-race-to-the-store-whoops-you’re-not-wearing-real-pants-go-home-and-cook-up-a-storm-even-when-you-were-going-to-eat-leftovers-because-you-should-be-doing-your-taxes-or-maybe-washing-your-hair-or-something-but-even-in-your-end-of-week-exhaustion-stupor-you-have-to-peel-yourself-off-the-floor-and-put-on-something-that-once-looked-like-pants-so-you-can-make-this-right-now-before-the-Winter-Olympics-opening-ceremony-starts good.
This stew is bonkers.
Stew can be confusing, emotionally and gustatorially speaking. Some people adore it. They’ll tell you it doesn’t get any better than a nice big bowl on any given day from November and February. But other people have less than fond memories: chewy lumps of meat, mushed tatters of what may or may not have been vegetables at some point during the last decade—all cooked together beyond recognition.
But look. Stew shouldn’t be confusing. It should be simple. Who doesn’t like a delicious, tender, hearty, warming meal packed with the one-two flavor intensifying punch—or really, bear hug— of slow-cooked meat and perfectly roasted vegetables, all snuggled into some seriously tasty sauciness?
Like anything, stew can be made badly. It can manage, somehow, to be gloppy and chewy and mushy all at the same time—truly unappealing in every possible way. But it shouldn’t be. It should, instead, be one of those dishes that’s totally worth the whistle and the wait. It should be one of those beautifully unassuming dishes that would knock everyone out of their seats if they weren’t so intent on hanging onto their bowls. Sure, a good stew looks amazing, but it isn’t glamorous. It’s more like the food version of an onomatopoeia: by looking at it, you should know just how rich and complexly flavored each bite is going to be, from the very first eager forkful to the very last bread-sopping swipe.
We say the “stew” level of friendship like it’s a big deal because it is. We don’t make this incredible meal for just anyone. While it isn’t difficult to make, it does take time and care. And while guests may chow down bowl numero uno at an impressive pace, this dish isn’t something you serve as a quick bite to throw down before you race out the door to a movie. This is an-opening-a few-bottles-of-wine-talking-until-you-get-to-the-good-stuff-not-realizing-how-late-it’s-gotten dish. But for all that, what’s really amazing, is that it’s also really hard to mess it up. Need to substitute one of the vegetables? Great. Want to make it a day in advance? Perfect. Can’t find the specified cut of meat? Feel free to swap for whatever slow-cooking meat you can find. (But a word of caution: make sure to adjust the cooking time depending on what you get or you’ll wind up with meat that’s tough instead of delicate.) Like we said, this is one easy-going, awesome dish.
While there is definitely quite a bit of meat in this stew, our version is full of vegetables. We think that in the quest to feel satisfyingly full but not like an overstuffed ravioli—a thinner line than we realize more often than not—this is key. It’s also just tasty. You don’t want the meat to overwhelm your other ingredients. Everything in the stew is delicious, so the dish should be balanced to reflect that. You want a little bit of everything in every bite, don’t you?
And by the way, if it’s not the stew part you need convincing of, but the lamb part… This is an excellent way to discover your new favorite meat. We love it always, but this stew brings out its best qualities. Warm yourself up with a bowl and see just what we mean.
* * * *
Roasted Vegetable Lamb Stew
A dutch oven. If you don’t have one, a cast-iron or other heavy-bottomed pot big enough for stew will be fine.
– 2 lbs boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes (you can probably ask the butcher to do this for you)
– enough all-purpose flour to coat the lamb
– 7 tbs olive oil + maybe a little extra + more for roasting vegetables
– 5 cups low-sodium chicken or beef stock
– 12 large carrots
– 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
– 6 medium Yukon gold potatoes
– 1 cup frozen or fresh peas (thawed if frozen)
– 2–3 large shallots, sliced
– 5 cloves garlic, chopped
– 1 tbs tomato paste
– 3/4 cup red wine
– 1 large bay leaf (fresh if you can)
– 1 tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary + 2 big sprigs
– 1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
– plenty of salt and pepper for all the stages along the way
* Take the lamb out of the fridge about an hour before getting started so that it can come to room temperature and will cook evenly.
* Pre-heat oven to 425°F.
* Peel and quarter your potatoes. If you like, you can “turn” them like Lou did. It makes for especially nice tubers, but it’s not necessary. Peel carrots and cut into chunks. Halve tomatoes.
* Put the vegetables together on a baking sheet (feel free to line with foil for easy clean-up) and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss to coat. Nestle the two rosemary sprigs between the vegetables.
* Oven roast the vegetables for 20-25 minutes or until they’ve got some good color and are soft but not mushy. We like just a little bit of a bit left in them.
* Put your dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot on the stove over medium-high heat.
* While it’s getting good and hot, season the meat liberally with salt and pepper.
* Pour some flour into a bowl and coat each piece of meat completely, shaking off excess flour.
* When your pan is hot, add 3 tbs of olive oil and let it heat up but don’t let it start smoking. (If it does, just turn the heat down for a minute and then bring it back up.)
* Add the lamb to the pot, one piece at a time. Give the pieces enough space so they aren’t crowded. Crowding the pot will prevent proper browning. You’ll probably need to do this in two or maybe even three batches, depending on the size of your pot. After the second batch, add 2 more tbs of olive oil. If you need a third batch, add another 1 or 2 tbs before. You’re looking to give each piece of meat a nice brown, flavorful crust all around but you don’t want to cook it all the way through—it will do that in the stew. Brown and move on. It’s ok if you don’t get every single side, but get the big ones. As the meat finishes browning, remove to a plate and set aside.
* When all of the meat has been browned, turn the heat down to medium and add 1-2 more tbs of olive oil to the pot, depending on whether or not you have any oil left.
* Add your shallots and stir, scraping up any brown bits at the bottom of the pan as you do. Cook until soft and translucent—maybe 3 or 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.
* Clear a little space in the middle of the shallots and garlic and add 1 tbs tomato paste. Break it up with your spoon a bit and let it cook for a minute or so while stirring before mixing it into everything else.
* Add 3/4 cup of red wine and cook for 5–7 minutes or until it is reduced by half.
* Stir and turn heat up to medium-high.
* Add meat back into pot and stir to coat.
* Add stock, a pinch of salt, and the bay leaf and cover. Bring to a simmer, then turn heat down to medium-low and tilt the lid so you have a little gap for steam to escape.
* Simmer until meat is incredibly tender—it should fall apart easily. This will take about 2 hours. Be sure to give it a stir and a check at least once or twice.
* A few minutes before the meat will be done, remove the rosemary sprigs from your roasted vegetables and discard, then add the vegetables to the pot.
* Cook together for 7 minutes, then turn heat off.
* Add peas, finely chopped rosemary, and a big handful of the chopped parsley. Stir and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper if needed. Let sit for just a couple of minutes so the peas heat through.
* Serve sprinkled with remaining parsley and with a side of good, crusty bread.
©2014 Lee and Lou Cook. All rights reserved.