This is one of the most satisfying stews on the planet. Well, I think so anyway. Most especially when it’s crispy cold outside and a wood fire is burning in the hearth. It takes a bit of time for this stew but well worth it, and it can be done in stages. For instance braising the lamb shanks the day before if you wish.
So to start this warm hug of a dish season the shanks with salt/pepper and have a hot skillet with some olive oil at the ready and add the shanks. Do in batches if more than two or three, brown -caramelize- the meat well. Then transfer to a stock pot.
You can add in some large dice onion, a half carrot and celery stalk also cut in large dice, a bay leaf and some fresh thyme, a couple cloves of whole peeled garlic, all this will flavor and give depth to the braising liquid, which you will now add in the form of water, but if you have some good quality chicken or beef stock use this for real richness in the final stew.
Add in enough liquid to only partially submerge the shanks, then cover the pot and slip into a 325’F oven. Or if you have a counter top slow cooker this works beautifully too. Cooking Low and Slow is the key to braising. The Slow part being 2 1/2 – 3 hours braising time.
Oh and since the oven is on, although at a low temp, should be fine, take a head of garlic cut off the pointy end to expose the cloves, set it in some aluminum foil big enough to wrap the head, pour a bit of olive oil on to the cut end and wrap it up in the foil and put it in the oven. Check it in an hour, if it is soft when you squeeze it it’s ready. Unwrap and set aside. This step with the roasted garlic is optional, but it will make your mash potatoes a smash hit.
Once the meat is falling off the bone it’s done. Remove the shanks and pour off the braising liquid, which has miraculously become your fine lamb stock, through a wire sieve into another container to hold, and discard the onion, carrot, and celery, herbs, and garlic.
Now you can start building the final stew. You may want to check my other post Beef Stew and Biscuits to see photos as the method is the same here. Choose some onion, turnip, parsnips, carrots and celery. Wash, peel and cut these to a medium to large dice. In a soup pot on medium heat add some oil, and when the pan is hot toss in your veg and sauté for a few minutes. Add a touch more oil if necessary. It’s ok to let the veg caramelize a bit. Season with salt/pepper.
Next, add in enough regular flour to lightly coat the veggies, this will thicken the stew to a final luscious sauciness. I put in about 1/4 – 1/2 cup depending on the veg amount. And not to worry if it’s too thick, it’s easier to thin out a too thick stew by adding more liquid than have to try to thicken it more later.
Continue stirring the veg/ flour until well coated, then crack open that tall can of Guiness!
Pour the beer into the pot and keep stirring, it will get pasty. Add in your lamb braising liquid.
You will also need a couple of liters of beef stock on hand to supplement the liquid already added.
Toss in a Bay leaf, some fresh Thyme and while the stew is perking away pull the meat off the shanks and break it up, and add it into the stew. Check the consistency and seasoning, and let simmer till vegetables are soft.
For the Potato component use whatever potato on hand, but I love the smooth little waxy ones. Red or White. Cut them into halves or quarters depending on size and put them in a pot of cold salted water and bring to a boil. When the potatoes are soft and tender, after about 20 minutes or so, drain the potatoes off and return to their pot.
Back on the stove over medium heat let the remaining moisture evaporate off them while you stir them around. Next a big knob of butter and a good glug of buttermilk and then mash and stir to break up the potatoes. It’s important to keep the potatoes hot during the whole mashing process, if they cool down while being worked over they will become gummy. That would be bad. Season with salt and pepper.
This is where your roasted garlic makes its entrance. Squeeze the garlic head and see all the soft sweet caramel colored cloves slide out of their skins. Let several of them fall into the mash potatoes and blend them in. If you have access to fresh rosemary chop some fine and add to the potatoes too. Keep the remaining roasted garlic in a container in the fridge for another use.
When the stew has melded into bliss and the potatoes are whipped into submission, heap a big spoonful of mash in your bowl and ladle in some hot stew and sprinkle on some parsley if you have it.
Perfect. Bring on the Fall.