Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Recipe Revisited: Vernal Equinox Game Day Multi-Pot Lamb Stew

... inspired by "Julie's Exceptional Lamb Stew with Vegetables" in the cookbook American Cookery by James Beard (See my cookbooks!)

This is my method for making stew for a crowd (12-15 adults) without having to own a large stewpot. You start by making the broth in a 3-quart crockpot and end up with stew in both the crockpot and a 4-5 qt Dutch oven. Serve from the Dutch oven first and leave the crockpot simmering on low; if you're lucky you'll have leftovers to savor from the crockpot the next day.

Aside from changing Julie's method quite a bit (she cooked the veggies separately), I also added a couple fennel bulbs and a bit of Marsala to flavor the stew. It ended up with a delicate flavor enhanced by the sweetness of the fennel.

The morning before …

Make the broth first. Brown 2+ pounds lamb neck bones in a 425-degree oven, on a cooky sheet covered with heavy-duty foil, for 15-20 minutes. I got the neck bones from the butcher for $1.99/lb.

Meanwhile, clean, peel, and chop up vegetables …

1 leek, 1 large onion, 1 turnip

… and put them, along with

a couple handfuls of pre-washed mini carrots,

into bottom of crockpot. When the bones are brown, lift foil and pour them into crockpot. Using a spatula, loosen remaining brown bits from foil with a sprinkle of Marsala, and scrape them into the crockpot. Add seasonings (1 tsp thyme, 3 minced garlic cloves, 1 tsp salt). Cover with water. Simmer 5-6 hours. Cool overnight.

About 4 hours before the dinner …

Skim the fat off the broth, remove the bones, and set aside. The cold broth should have a nice thick gelatinous quality.

For the stew:
4 pounds lamb meat cut into pieces for stew (mine was from the leg; recipes usually recommend shoulder but that wasn't available at my usual grocery store),
flour for dredging,
4-5 tablespoons oil

Dredge the lamb with flour and brown in hot oil in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven. Remove meat to a plate temporarily; deglaze Dutch oven with a little Marsala, then pour half of the browned Marsala into the crockpot. Transfer half of the browned meat from the plate back into the Dutch oven, and ladle onto it enough of broth from the crockpot to cover. Put the rest of the browned meat into the crockpot.

Then divide these vegetables between Dutch oven and crockpot:

Couple more handfuls of pre-washed mini carrots
2-3 small turnips, peeled and quartered
2-3 fennel bulbs, coarsely chopped
2 leeks cut in 2-inch pieces

Ladle more broth from crockpot to Dutch oven, making sure you have enough broth in both pots to cover meat and vegetables. Cover crockpot and turn on high heat. Cook the stew in the Dutch oven over high heat for a few minutes, then cover and lower to a simmer either in a 325-degree oven or over low heat on top of the stove.

Check the meat in the Dutch oven for tenderness about 2 1/2 hours later. Adjust seasonings.

Shortly before serving:

If you like, thicken the sauce slightly with 3-4 tablespoons butter kneaded together with the same amount of flour, stirring until smooth.

A nice last minute touch for color and texture is to steam in the microwave a small bag of

pre-washed green beans

following package directions. Add half the beans to the Dutch oven, and keep the other half on reserve for the crockpot.

Serve the stew from the Dutch oven first, with biscuits, noodles, or rice.

All this juggling isn't really very complicated or difficult -- I wanted to write down my "method" as a reminder that I don't have to go out and buy a large pot that's not needed most of the time. So not only is it a nice first-day-of-spring meal, but I saved a bit of the earth as well.

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