The birds returned to Minnesota two weeks ago, on a day when the temperature was negative one. They are the first harbingers of spring for me, when the world still feels impossibly cold for birds, and it’s hard to imagine little green blades rising through the frozen earth. Now their twitter tweet-tweet-tweet is a morning reminder that the world will thaw and those green shoots will appear. So because it’s still winter in Minnesota. And because our favorite Turkish hole-in-the-wall, where we used to enjoy such a stew, up and disappeared. And because my Honey Girl is home from college. And because little Annie and I are a little batty after months inside the house. And because my sweet butcher Greg cubed some lovely lamb shoulder for me… I made a lamb stew to celebrate impending spring! Now, how do I know that little Annie, our ginger terrier, is feeling a little batty, too? Because she perches on the arm of a chair in my office and looks longingly outside. Then she looks at me. And stares. When it’s winter here, our walks are brief, and some days it’s simply too cold to go out. We’re both ready for a long walk, for puddles and mud and brief sink-baths for cold, dirty paws. I know, Annie, it’s time, it’s time. Hurry up, Spring!
Lamb Stew Tips
Lamb shoulder is a fattier cut with more flavor. Leg of lamb is leaner. Choose one or a combination according to your preference.
When you sear the lamb, do not overcrowd the pan. There should be a little space between each piece of lamb. If the pan is full, the lamb will steam rather than brown. A good brown crust on the lamb will add tremendous flavor to the stew, so don’t rush this step. You will likely have to sear the lamb in batches.
Do not peek at the lamb while it sears. You will smell it and see its brown crust at the edges when it is ready. If it sticks to the pan, it’s not ready.
Fond is the browned meat essence (fat, sugars, proteins…) that forms on the bottom of a pan. It is one of the keys to a delicious stew.
Do not use cooking wine in this (or any) recipe. Use something tasty you would drink.
Yield: about 12 servings
2 pounds cubed lamb shoulder or leg
1 large onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2 small eggplants, cubed
4 carrots, peeled and diced
1 T. dried oregano
1 c. white wine
28 ounces crushed tomatoes (I prefer Bio Naturae brand.)
14 ounces diced tomatoes
28 ounces tinned chick peas
3 c. chicken stock (recipe here or Swanson’s organic)
salt and pepper
olive oil for the pan
- Season the meat well with salt and pepper.
- Heat a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. When it is hot drizzle in some olive oil. When it is hot, add the lamb in a single layer. Do not crowd the pan.
- Sear the lamb until it has a deep brown crust. Turn over the lamb and sear the other side. Transfer the browned lamb from the pan to a plate and sear the next batch.
- Spoon out the excess fat and discard it.
- Lower the heat a bit and add the onions to the pan. Season them with a little salt and pepper. Sauté them, scraping up the fond on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
- Add the garlic and stir for one minute.
- Add the rest of the fresh vegetables and the oregano and sauté for a few minutes.
- Add the wine and scrape all of the fond from the bottom and sides of the pan.
- Add the tomatoes, chick peas, and chicken stock and cover the pot. Raise the heat and bring the stew to a boil. Reduce the heat immediately to the lowest possible setting and simmer at a low burble for about an hour to an hour and a half, or until the lamb is very tender. If the stew is not thick enough, remove the lid and simmer a little longer.
- Taste the stew and adjust the seasoning if necessary.