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Mary O’Brien’s Irish Stew

Written by Lara O’Brien

This past Saturday was my grandmother’s 85th birthday. Born in 1924 in Cork, Ireland, Mary O’Brien is one amazing lady. So in honour of her birthday, I decided to have my whole family over for an Irish dinner.

Mary is truly a meat-and-potatoes gal. She was a nurse during the Blitz in London, where she used to have to hustle patients under the beds while the bombs rained down. Mary can hold her own, and has no tolerance for anything fancy in the food department. So even though it was 30? here in Toronto (86?F for you Americans—if nothing else, my postings will help you with metric weather), I embarked on the making of a perfect Irish stew.

I wanted to be faithful to how my Grandma used to make it when I was a kid. I’d always watch her diligently while she cooked anything and everything in her kitchen (I dare say I once saw a dash of ketchup go into a stew—that won’t happen here), but her stews were by far the best and a true representation of cooking brought over from the homeland. Hearty and filled with tons of root vegetables, this stew really is a great dish for the fall, so it may be worth saving this one for next month when root veggies begin to make their appearance.

I will say, however, that despite the stifling weather, Mary O’Brien enjoyed her Irish stew on her 85th birthday, helped along with a nice cold bottle of beer. Slainte.
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Mary O’Brien’s Irish Beef Stew

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 2 hours
Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 strips of good bacon, cut into lardons
  • 2-3 pounds of stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes (depends on how much meat you like)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 medium onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 4 cups good beef stock (you may need an additional cup of water or stock)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 cup stout or red wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 10 small new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
  • 1 small turnip, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 4 medium carrots, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 4 medium parsnips, cut into 11/2-inch pieces
  • Fresh parsley

Method:

In a heavy-bottomed large pot (like a dutch oven), sauté the bacon over medium heat. Remove the bacon pieces when crispy but keep the fat in the pot.

Toss the cubed beef with flour in a large bowl, then remove the beef and shake gently in a metal strainer to remove excess flour.

Add the beef to the pot to brown in batches; if you crowd the pot with cubes, the beef will steam rather than brown. Remove the browned beef and reserve.

Add the onion and cook until soft, but not brown. Add the tomato paste and cook for another few minutes. Add the stock, beer, reserved beef and bacon pieces, and herbs. Bring to a low simmer, cover, and cook for about an hour.

After an hour, add the potatoes and turnips. After another 20 minutes, add the carrots and parsnips. Continue to cook for another 20-30 minutes and you can add a bit more stock if need be.

This stew shouldn’t be too thick, but if it’s too watery you can add a slurry: whisk 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with a bit of the stock in a small bowl, then pour into the stew to thicken it. Finish it with a good handful of fresh parsley.

This is great served with Irish soda bread—but unfortunately, I don’t bake. However there are lots of great recipes online for it.

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