My mother asked me, “What seasonings do you use in Irish stew?” I replied, “Salt.” Then our discussion led to the realization she needed my help.
Warning: this recipe requires time and dedication. If you can’t devote about six hours for this meal to reach the right flavor, switch out the Guinness and substitute red wine, but then it’s just a tasty meat stew, not Irish. (Next you’ll be asking me how I have the right to decide what’s Irish and what isn’t, and I’ll . . . I’ll . . . well, it’s my kitchen, damn it.)
Start with half a stick of butter and a pound and a half of stew meat. If the beef is lean (lamb is always fatty, so ignore this), use the whole stick of butter. Melt the butter in the stew pot, and chop the meat into chunks if the butcher hasn’t done this already. Brown the meat with crushed garlic.
Add a single bottle of Guiness Extra Stout. If you’re living in German beer country, or you can’t find Guiness available, choose a hearty ale or beer–something sturdy that could be considered a meal in a glass. Pour in enough water or stock to cover the meat and, eventually, the vegetables. Bring to a boil and let boil for twenty minutes, then turn down to a simmer.
Here’s another warning: this is going to stink. And it’ll stink for about five and a half hours, and you’ll think, dear God, what have I done to that beautiful beef? Don’t worry, because sometime around that fifth hour, the stink goes away, and it starts to smell really good.
But before that glorious moment arrives, you still have to be near the damned stuff. So, about hour four (and a half? basically, an hour before you expect to serve the stew), add in small potatoes or chunks of large potato. I like getting those baby reds by the pound for a stew, but sometimes I like less potato. About half an hour before finished, add in at least three to five carrots, sliced into thick rounds. Season the pot with salt, cracked black pepper, and thyme the same time you add carrots.
Then you wait. When it starts to smell good, visit with the stew. Breathe it in. Take a careful taste. If it’s still bitter, you have to wait at least another fifteen minutes. When the bastard is finally ready, when its stout, meaty flavors have blended into a rich, tender broth, then serve it in giant bowls with giant spoons and hunks of Irish soda bread smothered in Derrygold butter, and enjoy it, because I can’t eat it anymore, and you won’t want to go through the process again for at least a year . . . around the time you start to miss the taste.
“I saw a book entitled ‘Irish Cuisine,’ and I laughed my balls off! Irish Cuisine?! What are we famous for cuisine-wise? We put everything in a pot and we boil it for seventeen and a half hours straight, until you can eat it with a straw . . . It’s not a cuisine, folks. That’s penance.” –Denis Leary