ONE-POT STEW FOR THE SOUL
This meal is perfect for sharing and any leftovers are great to freeze into individual portions
The word “stew” is said to come from the old French word estuier, meaning to enclose. Most cultures have a form of stew; most well-known is the Irish stew, “Ballymaloe” or “stobhach gaelach” as it is called in Gaelic. Made with either beef or lamb and root vegetables, I regard a stew as the ultimate in comfort food. Sheep farming was popular across early rural Ireland. The wool would be used to make clothes and the milk would be used to make cheese, but as the animal came to the end of its productive years it would be slaughtered and eaten. Because of its age, the meat would be tough; it would be cooked for hours so the meat would tenderise in the rich stock. Even today I use cheaper cuts of meat; it’s a great money-saving way to make a family meal. My basic recipe is incredibly versatile — I use variations for pie fillings or add potatoes and dumplings for a complete one-pot meal. Growing up, a stew was served to us at least one weeknight, as being part of a large family a big pot of stew was an economical way to feed the many hungry mouths. The pot would be placed in the centre of the table, from where it was served in bowls. It was a total potluck, and I always hoped my scoop would contain a large chunk of beef or a fluffy dumpling.
The dough balls would be added to the pot 20 minutes before serving. They would cook in the sauce, becoming light and fluffy. Using a popular search engine I find the history of the dumpling dates back to medieval times, with the ancient method of stewing being popular all over the world. Dumplings and potatoes were added to soups and stews to make the dish more substantial and make it go further. Pulses are also added to bulk up the meal.
BEING PART OF A LARGE FAMILY A BIG POT OF STEW WAS AN ECONOMICAL WAY TO FEED THE MANY HUNGRY MOUTHS
Our homemade stew was never the same; it depended on what was in season — swede, parsnips, carrots and celery were all added, left to simmer for hours on the coal stove. The windows would steam up as the pot bubbled away. The second-best part of the meal would be mopping up the gravy with slices of homemade bread. The recipe alongside is one of my personal favourites. I have family in town right now, so this is the perfect sharing meal, and any leftovers are great to freeze into individual portions. In this recipe, I use plenty of fresh herbs for extra flavour and I always make extra dumplings. It’s a real taste of nostalgia and is still delicious.
Recipes, food styling and photography by Mark Setchfield