stewing (featuring Irish Lamb Stew)
I have had a recurring nightmare since I was thirteen:
I am legless and being chased. I don’t have a wheelchair but use my arms as crutches and swing the stump of my body between them. I move quickly but never quick enough to escape.
Terrifying, right? The funny thing is, last Thursday, when I was released from the hospital after surgery on my left hip, they handed me the crutches and I knew EXACTLY what to do. It was like I had been secretly training for this recovery mission for the past 29 years.
When I was thirteen, I was hit by a car while on vacation in Ireland with my mother and grandfather. I was knocked up pretty badly- shattering my pelvis and fracturing my left femur. 29 years later I think I might have finally exorcised the last bits of that accident out of my body – hopefully putting an end to both my chronic pain and my recurring nightmares.
Recovery is a painstakingly slow process. All week I have been lying on the couch with my left leg in a physical therapy contraption that raises it up and bends my knee to a greater degree every day. I daydream about travelling and shop online for things I want but do not exactly need.
Yesterday, however, after adroitly crutching my way to the physical therapist’s office, I decided it was time to get back in the kitchen. I stopped at the grocery store to get inspired and lightning struck in the beer aisle. (Don’t worry, I’m still sober.)
On that ill-fated trip through Ireland, my mother, grandfather and I traveled in a horse-drawn caravan. I was walking next to the caravan when a speeding car hit me. It was a tourist adventure that’s no longer available (probably because of the number of car accidents that occurred.)The route, through the southwest countryside of Ireland was well known by the horse, who would dutifully pull us from one glorious stop to the next. On the first night, my mother started an Irish stew base that we added to daily with ingredients from local markets. Frankly, it was the best freaking thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. Fresh Irish lamb, potatoes, carrots, peas, pearl onions, and GUINNESS. Every day we would pour another pint or two of Guinness into that stew, bring it to a boil and smell the magic happen.
In some perfect twist of fate, yesterday my right crutch caught on the bottom of the cold shelf in the grocery store and I lurched into a tower of Guinness cans.
Just the thing to nurse me back to health and finally declare victory over my longstanding tragedy.
- 2 pounds well-marbled chuck beef or lamb stew meat, cut into 1inch pieces (NOT extra-lean)
- 4 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 3 strips of bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 large garlic cloves, minced
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 1 can of Guinness beer
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 7 cups)
- 2 cups of pearl onions, peeled
- 2 cups baby carrots
- Salt and Pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Dredge the cubes of beef or lamb in a bowl with the flour and a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Cook the bacon in a large heavy pot over medium heat, rendering the fat. Add the olive oil. Working in batches if necessary, add the beef (do not crowd the pan, or the meat will steam and not brown) and cook, without stirring, until nicely browned on one side, then use tongs to turn the pieces over. Continue to cook in this manner until all sides are browned, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add chicken stock, Guinness, tomato paste, sugar, thyme, Worcestershire sauce and bay leaves. Stir to combine. Bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, then cover and simmer 3 hours, stirring occasionally.
- Add vegetables to beef stew. Simmer uncovered until vegetables and beef are very tender, about another hour. Discard bay leaves. Tilt pan and spoon off fat. Transfer stew to serving bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6.