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Irish stew recipe

Carrots are optional in this traditional Irish lamb stew

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Irish stew in a pot.
An Irish stew recipe is sure to do two things: instruct a cook in the preparation of a superb but simple meal, and dig up the age-old carrot debate!

To Irish cooking purists, our friendly orange vegetables are not on the ingredient list (they certainly don't appear in 18th- and 19th-century handwritten Irish stew recipe books).

To others, they add a bit of colour and ... er... something extra that no one seems to have yet defined.

Perhaps this inability to describe their value is the reason some chefs are so sniffy on this subject.

My mam ignored the no-carrot brigade on account of economy. Adding the vegetable stretched her Irish stew recipe to produce a satisfying meal for the nine of us without breaking the bank.

Carrot inclusion is, therefore, traditional to me, and I still chuck a good few into the pot.

But I'm going to offer you a choice. Add them or don't.

Your choice of meat cut is also open to discussion because original Irish stew recipes would stipulate neck mutton chops or kid.

This dates back to the days when most sheep flocks were kept for their wool, their milk, and other milk products such as cheese. When their meat reached the table it was only after the animal had exhausted its productive years.

This mutton required long boiling to tenderise it. This would be done on low three-legged mutton pots, specially designed for just this purpose.

Today, it can be difficult to get hold of mutton, so choose neck of lamb, chops from the neck or shoulder, or stewing lamb.

Ingredients for four to six portions:

  •   2lb (1kg) neck of lamb, cut into strips about half an inch (less than 2cm) thick, or chops, or chunks of stewing lamb
  •   2 large onions, sliced into rings a quarter inch (less than 1cm) thick
  •   2lb (1kg) potatoes (preferably a floury variety), in slices about half an inch (less than 2cm) thick, or cut into mouthful sized chunks
  •   2 large carrots, sliced (optional)
  •   14 fl oz (400ml) lamb stock (or, as in a more recent tradition, half stock and half Irish stout such as Guinness)
  •   2-3 tbs parsley, finely chopped (optional)
  •   sprig of rosemary (optional)
  •   salt and pepper

    The ballad of the Irish stew recipe

    Irish lamb stew was recognised as the national dish of Ireland as early as the 18th century. It even has its very own ballad:

      For all sorts of stomachs there are dainties,
      but the best feed between I and you,
      is some mutton with onions and 'tatties,
      made into a real Irish Stew.

      Then hurrah for an Irish stew,
      that will stick to your belly like glue.
      The sons of St Patrick for ever,
      and three cheers for a real Irish stew.


    Starting with the onions, build up layers of vegetables and meat in a large saucepan, adding half the parsley and a bit of salt and pepper as you go. Finish with a layer of potatoes.

    Pour the stock over and cover. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer very gently for 1½ - 2 hours.

    If you have used floury potatoes, they will have broken down to some extent into the liquid. If you have used waxy potatoes, they won't, in which case you should remove a few slices, mash them and return them to the pan.

    To present the stew to the table, sprinkle the remaining parsley over the dish and serve in bowls accompanied by soda bread and a glass of Irish stout.

    Preparation time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 1½ – 2 hours.

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