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Kitchen Secrets: Readers share their family secrets for a comforting Irish stew

Our readers share the recipes they’ve got simmering away.

Image: Shutterstock/Brent Hofacker

EVERY HOME COOK has their own kitchen hacks, cheats and traditions, and we want to know yours.

Each week as part of our Kitchen Secrets series, we’ll be asking readers to share their cooking tips and go-to-dishes. From the secret to quick-and-easy dinners, to the best way to scramble an egg, we’ll have a new question every seven days.

This week, we’re asking…

What’s your secret recipe for Irish stew?

As usual, our home cooks had lots to say. If you’d like to join the panel, send us your name and a bit about yourself to food@thejournal.ie!

To thicken or not to thicken?

I think your favourite stew will always depend on what you were brought up with. My Mum always made a very liquid stew when we were growing up, not thickened, so that’s what I love. My wife much prefers thickened stews, which to me are casseroles!  As with a lot of what I make, it’s not at all fussy but it’s all about the taste! 

For my stew, it’s always round beef, we never had mutton stew growing up so I don’t make it now. Into the pot it’s diced round steak, diced carrotts, sliced onions, Oxo beef stock cube, salt, pepper and mixed herbs. Then covered with water and just let it simmer for at least 2 hours (it’s wonderful in the slow cooker, so you get that wonderful smell when you walk in the door after work!). I usually cook the potatoes separately, unless it’s in the slow cooker, then for handiness sake, I just throw them in too. My Mum used to add the dried soup mix (dried barley, split peas etc) into the stew but I keep forgetting!

- Olly Keegan 

The secret to great dumplings

Irish stew is one of those recipes that have lasted through the generations. Food fads may come and go but a warming Irish stew will always be a staple in Irish homes. And what’s an Irish stew without dumplings? It’s like Ant without Dec, Laurel without Hardy – it’s simply unthinkable.

But firstly let’s start with the stew. Put lamb chops – I use the cheaper cuts – into a pot ,do not brown the meat first as this is a pale soup and we don’t want colour. Add carrots, onions, celery, leeks and chopped kale or cabbage. Herbs are important, thyme, parsley and bay leaves give the stew a nice flavour. Barley comes next, it gives the stew body. Cover with cold water and add stock cubes – I use lamb stock when I can get it but vegetable stock will be fine. Simmer for a couple of hours. Add quartered potatoes half an hour before the end, this will ensure the potatoes won’t disintegrate.

Now for the dumplings. Sieve 4oz of self-raising flour into a bowl, rub in 2oz of butter with your fingertips, add some chopped parsley, salt and white pepper and enough cold water to combine. Divide the mixture into six equal parts and gently drop into the stew. They will float to the top.Put a lid on the pot and simmer VERY gently for 15 minutes.

- Angie Nolan

Source: Shutterstock/Slawomir Fajer

Add chorizo for flavour?

I love my stew. I usually throw all the ingredients into the pot and hope for the best but it always turns out amazing. I usually use: 2lbs of diced beef, onions carrots, leeks, a bit of celery, some times I add peas or parsnips (any veg I can get my hands on really) and chorizo.

Brown the beef, throw the veg in, add about 250mls of red wine and then add a knorr beef stock pot and fill it up with water. I also add the chorizo – it gives it such a tasty flavour.

I let it cook for about three hours over a low heat and at the end I add a wee bit of Bisto to thicken. I usually have mashed potatoes with it but with stew I don’t think it matters what accompanies it!

- Ruth Corbally

Make it in the oven (with a crispy potato topping)

Pre-heat oven to 200C/180C fan. Brown 1kg of cubed beef stewing steak (in batches) in 1tbsp of oil in a sauce pan over a high heat. Remove beef from the pan and set aside. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and cook off chopped onions, celery and carrots for five minutes (choice of quantities of vegetables).

Add beef back into the pan with the vegetables, give a good stir and season. Place contents of the pan into a large ovenproof dish and pour over one litre of beef stock.

Topping: arrange sliced potatoes on top, smearing over a a little butter – then cover tightly with foil. Bake for one hour, 15mins, then remove the foil and bake for a further 20 mins until potatoes are crisp and golden.

- Jennifer Dillon

And finally, a home recipe from down the generations…

A good stew can cure many ills so it’s an essential recipe to have in your repertoire. Mine is not particularly traditional, in that it contains beef rather than lamb, but my mother raised eight hungry kids on it and we always devoured it. I have memories of it bubbling away on the stove for hours on cold winter days, steaming up the kitchen windows.

As I don’t have the stamina for eight kids, my recipe feeds four. Heat rapeseed or vegetable oil in a large casserole pot and add in 600g stewing/round steak cut into chunks. Seal these at a medium heat, then add in chopped onions, carrots and celery until softened. I go rogue here and add a bit of red wine or stout if it’s lying around to enhance the flavour.

Pour in 750ml of good quality beef stock, a bay leaf, salt and pepper and a little homemade bouquet garni (I can hear my mother’s eyes rolling from here) of fresh thyme, parsley and rosemary tied together. Potatoes can go in at this point too – sliced, peeled and rinsed of the excess starch. Allow this to come to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and pop the lid on. It can sit here for approx 2/2.5 hours. The oven is also an option, at 150°C.

My husband and I clash over the next step, he’s a dumpling fan and I am not. If adding them, do so 30mins before the end. They are pretty easy to make. I prefer my stew in a large bowl with a big dollop of mash or else slices of my Mam’s homemade soda bread (alas, I’ve yet to learn how to make this).

- Donna Connolly

More: Kitchen Secrets: Readers share their secrets for perfect fluffy rice>

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Michael Freeman

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