Skip the lean meat on this one. Fattier cuts hold up better to long, slow cooking and keep your meat from getting stringy.
When I was a child I remember eating a distinctly nasty Irish stew: watery, greasy, and singularly unvoluptuous. I haven't been particularly won round by eating it in Ireland, either. But I recently had a bowlful at the Irish Club in London's Eaton Square, and it was velvety in its unctuousness, the meat and its gravy both infused with that sweet, tender viscosity. I don't think I have ever been so bowled over by something I've ordered. Actually, I didn't order it, or not initially. I had played safe and asked for the Irish smoked salmon with soda bread. But then I tasted the stew and felt pierced with envy. I am happy to eat from other people's plates; indeed, I don't feel there's any point going out if I can't do that. But this was different: I wanted my own, and lots of it. The Irish Club's Irish Stew, with its inclusion of veal stock (and chicken stock, for that matter), and whole lamb chops, which diners gnaw on, may offend purists, but experiences as voluptuous and pleasurable as this are always going to offend them anyway. Don't worry about making your own veal stock — there are good commercial versions available — but it's important not to leave it out, as that's what produces, or helps produce, the requisite seductive stickiness.
3/4 cup pear barley
3 pounds rib lamb chops not less than 1 inch thick, trimmed of any fat
5 medium onions, chopped, or 12 boiling onions
5 medium carrots, peeled and chopped, or 12 baby ones, peeled
3 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 1/4 cups chicken stock
1 1/4 cups veal stock
Salt and freshly milled black pepper
Leaves from a medium rosemary sprig, minced
3 sage leaves, minced
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
8 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
Cook the barley 20 minutes in boiling salted water, drain it, and reserve.
Preheat the oven to 325 F. In a casserole in which you're sure everything's going to fit, brown the lamb. You shouldn't need to add any cooking fat to the pan. Remove the meat. Add the vegetable to the casserole, turn them in the fat, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until slightly softened. Meanwhile, combine the stocks and heat.
Remove the vegetables to a plate for a moment, then layer the casserole with the chops, the vegetables, and the parboiled barley, seasoning well with the salt and pepper and sprinkling with rosemary, sage, and parsley as you go. Pour over the warmed stock and arrange the potatoes on top overlapping like a tiled roof, and season again. Cover the casserole so that the potatoes steam inside. Put in the oven for 1 1/2 hours, or until the potatoes are soft and the meat is thoroughly cooked. If you want the potatoes browned on top, dot with butter and blitz under the broiler or in a turned-up oven when cooked.
The whole point of this stew is that it needs not accompaniment — except for bread, and lots of it.
From How To Eat by Nigella Lawson. Copyright 2007 Nigella Lawson. Published by Wiley. All Rights Reserved.