It’s once again an Australia Time Friday! It’s FRIDAY!!!!
You will remember that last week we did a leg of lamb. With just 2 people, this takes a while to eat. As we approach the end, when there’s about 2 cups of it left, I tend to make either a lamb soup or a lamb stew out of it. The difference being only how much “stuff” I put in the pot.
It is really a very simple recipe. I use about “2 onions worth of lamb” and one medium / large onion as the base. Everything else measures off of that. Figure the onion at about 1 cup ( 250 ml ).
Now this whole time, the Leg-o-lamb has been sitting in the roasting pot in the fridge. No, I never removed it from the roasting pot nor did I drain any “drippings” from the pot. It is a nice round pot of about 10 inches x 6 inches just right to hold a whole chicken or boneless leg-O-lamb with an inch or two around it. My “Mexican Pot” as it is enameled steel in a turquoise color (with speckles ;-) that I bought at a Walmart in a very highly Hispanic town south of me. Reminds me of the one “Mama Celerina” used at Miquel’s home when I was a kid. So roast your lamb (or whatever) and leave all the goodies in the pan.
Now it comes out of the fridge, and onto the stove. The remaining meat lump is removed and you inspect that no ‘junk’ remains in the pan. (This same process works for Chicken or other meats too, BTW). So no ‘plastic pop-up’ thermometers from a turkey or no ‘plastic leg ties’ from other birds and no ‘stretchy roast netting’ from the leg-o-lamb either. Bones can be left in for added flavor and calcium if desired, but watch out for small bones in this if using Chicken… There WILL be ‘little surprises’ if you leave the chicken neck in (but I do it anyway… but I digress, this is about lamb…)
Note: I do NOT remove the fat. IMHO there’s nothing wrong with it and it really adds a lot of richness and flavor to the end product. We will be adding a bunch of grain anyway and that really needs some fat to balance it out.
Chop the remaining lump of meat into dice of about 1 cm x 1 cm or 2 cm x 2 cm depending on how you like things – minced or chunky. I then set the meat aside as it is already cooked and you don’t want to overdo it. Or, just chop the vegetables first and while they are on the first simmer, return to the meat lump and then dice it up.
I tend to chop everything into roughly the same sized chunks. About 1/2 inch x 1/2 inch. I also tend to use “about the same volume” of all the bits, but it isn’t really critical at all. I’ve used from zero to double of each depending on what was around and it just doesn’t matter much. The exact nature shifts some, but the result is still good.
Lamb – we’ve covered it, about 2 cups / 500 ml.
Onion – about 1 cup or whatever size onion you have.
Celery – ditto
Carrots – ditto
Barley – 2 ‘hand fulls’ (or about 4 ounces volume or about 125 ml)
Lentils – 1 hand full (or about 2 ounces volume or about 63 ml)
Potato – 2 medium or about 2 cups, but it can be whatever room is left in the pot.
Can Of peas, drained – optional added at the end so they don’t get mushy.
I just ‘calibrated’ my ‘hand full’ using rice (you can also put rice in these soups / stews, or other grains as you like it). It came out to 2 volume ounces each. So I’ve added that above.
Into the pot with the ‘drippings’ and fat on the stove, put the diced onion. Turn it up to medium. Fill jar or measuring cup with about 2 cups of water. IF your roast managed to completely dry out the ‘drippings’ add about 4 ounces. For mine, I typically have about 1/2 inch of water based stuff under the fat layer so rarely need to do that. Some folks like to sautee the vegetables in the fat but I’m happy with them not glazed that way.
Once it is warmed up and the onion is enjoying a nice simmer, add the diced carrots and celery. Add enough water to cover. Bring it back to the simmer. Stir it around to make sure the goodies off the bottom are being well incorporated.
At this point, I ought to note that a lot of things can be added if desired. We are basically at a Mirepoix with stock stage.
What Is Mirepoix?
Mirepoix is a combination of aromatic vegetables that gives a subtle background flavor to dishes such as soups, stews, and braises. Mirepoix, a French term, is typically made up of onion, carrot, and celery. But this version is only one of many possible variations. The Italian soffritto, like mirepoix, calls for onions, celery, and carrots, and sometimes pancetta and garlic. Mushrooms, parsnips, leeks, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic are all considered aromatic vegetables and can be used in endless combinations.
The “holy trinity” includes onions, celery, and—instead of carrot—a bell pepper. This is used as a base of most soups and stews made in Louisiana, including gumbo. Green peppers were substituted because they’re easier to grow in southern Louisiana—plus they’re delicious.
How to Make Mirepoix
Rinse, trim, and peel the vegetables—typically two parts onion to one part carrot and one part celery—then chop them into uniform pieces. The shorter the cooking time of your recipe, the smaller the pieces should be, so that they effectively infuse the foods with flavor.
You can add the mirepoix uncooked to stocks and broths for a light dose of flavor. To add richness to heartier stews and braises, “sweat” the vegetables first, cooking them with a little oil or butter over low heat until they start to release their juices into the pan.
As noted, the ‘classic’ is 2 parts onion to one part celery and one part carrots. I’ve done that too. But often I just have one onion laying around the house and excess older celery and carrots needing a “move along”. It all works.
Also note the mushrooms. IF I ever have any left over mushrooms that are starting to get a bit long in the fridge (that is about 2 to 3 days it seems…), they get chopped and in they go too. Parsnips? Tomatoes? Bit of older ham? Some ‘aged’ bacon? Maybe a lurking garlic clove or 2? Whatever flavors you like can go in. (Even flaming hot peppers for “people of a certain sort” ;-)
In fact, you can even use bouillon cubes for the base and sautee the vegetables in olive oil or butter and make a vegetables only version of this, if you have enough interesting vegetables to use up.
Back at the Lamb Version
So you have the pot simmering, Mirepoix in place and water to cover. At this point you can add the lamb and top up the water to just cover. Now comes the “fun part”. The potatoes can tend to dissolve if they are russets, but stay whole better if reds or yellows (where, BTW, you can leave the skin on for interesting color…). I don’t mind “mushy potatoes’ and find the bits that dissolve make for a kind of stew gravy effect, so I just dump the spuds in now and increase the water to cover. You may want to wait a little while if that bothers you.
Now you get to add the grain & legumes. I like barley in lamb and lentils in everything, but most any legume can be used if you are willing to do the ‘soak and first boil, drain’ thing for dry beans. I’ve also used canned beans. You will notice I add a can of peas at the end, that’s an example. They get mushed up more than, say, kidney beans, so go in with about 10 minutes left. Canned Kidney beans can just be dumped in ‘whenever’.
For those two grain / lentil additions, you will need about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of water that they will soak up in the cooking. Now this can either be the water already in the pot if you want a thicker stew like result, or it can be added water. Essentially you can add all the water you like to make this a thick stew all the way up to a thin soup. IF you make it more soup like, you will need more salt & pepper to keep it right, and may need to add some bouillon if you dilute the stock base too much. Beef bouillon can be used with lamb but the flavor gets a bit ‘muddy’ (i.e. confused, not a clear note).
I’ll also add about 1/2 dozen ‘grinds’ of pepper at this point so a nice base builds into the vegetables. Use more or less as you like, but at least one… You can also play with other spices at this point. I’ll add a bay leaf to the beef version (fish it out later at the end) and sometimes a bit of Poultry Seasoning to chicken or turkey versions. Lamb seems fine as is with just the garlic granules and pepper left on the crusty end of the diced lamb.
I usually just start chopping things and dumping them in the pot, onions first, then carrots, then celery… adding water as needed to cover as I go. Longest cooking things first, fastest to cook last. The grain / lentils take about 30 to 40 minutes and get added after about 20 minutes of chopping and adding onions and such, so finished cooking at about the 1 hour point (though it can simmer for 2 or more if desired). IF at any time, the water gets low and stuff starts poking above the surface, pour in some more.
Potatoes are about 1/2 hour to cook, so go in just after the grains / lentils. Then with about 10 minutes left to go, or about the 45 to 50 minute mark, open and drain a can of peas, stir it in, and do any final adjustment of water level (for mine it was about 1 inch from the top of the pot, so not much more could be added… so I left it as ‘stew’) and add a bunch of salt and pepper to taste.
Back at the simmer and at about the 1 hour point, you are done.
Note that I do all these steps with “mostly covered”. I doubt it matters much other than ‘fuel use’, but I keep a lid on it unless I’m adding things. I’m not real hard core on that, leaving it off for all of the Mirepoix stage as I’m rapidly chopping and adding… but for longer stretches, I put the lid on and keep the heat on low (as medium will boil under a lid…)
I’ve had this sit on the stove for 2 or even 3 hours after this point. Just turn it down to a keep warm serving temperature and it is fine. About 180 F. After serving, let it cool and then place the whole pot in the fridge. You now have about 1/2 gallon or more of nice Lamb Stew to enjoy over the coming days. When it gets down to about 1 quart left, I decant the remainder into a smaller plastic tub to recover fridge space. Do keep the fat bits in the stew ;-)
The wine: Samuel Wynn & Co. “Dice With Destiny, Red Blend 2017”. A very nice, full of flavor, and drinkable wine. I like it. Nice fruit, but not overbearing on the tannins as some reds can be. Reminds me of an Italian table wine. Intended to accompany a rich meal and just taste good.
As we saw in an earlier discussion on blending, it isn’t a pejorative and can make wines much better in the mix than either is alone. Unfortunately, the bottle does not say what was blended, so I can’t try a ‘roll my own’ on it. Guess I’ll just have to buy more ;-)
My prior experiment in blending can be found here: