Lamb stew is possibly the only thing we can get away with when we have chunks of lamb in the freezer. Fortunately, it’s one of those easy dishes you can put on while you get on with the weekly chores of hoovering and the damn laundry. And doubly fortunately, it’s a very forgivable dish: you can throw anything you’ve got in the store cupboard in without too much guilt about not spending hours washing, blanching, cutting, prepping. The only prep step involved is remembering to get the lamb out of the freezer the night before. Left in the fridge, it defrosts better than in the microwave, where it tends to get cooked instead.
Brown the cubes of defrosted lamb over a high heat in some olive oil (or whatever oil you like; low sat fat is our preferred frying agent). Throw on a generous pinch of lamb-friendly spices when the lamb is browned all over. The North African/Middle Eastern baharat1 blends are always good for lamb stew (thanks to Phoenicia in Embra’s George Sq for that lesson), but since I’ve used up my home-made NA/ME baharat, I made do with some garam masala, which is almost the same thing except to purists I suspect. At any rate, whatever spice you want to use, it’s usually best to dry-fry it first to give it a slightly charred flavour like you’ve been slaving over a charcoal stove all day, or to release the aromas as most cooks would say. To be honest, I do it because it makes my flat smell good. And makes my neighbours think I’m a genius cook.
This is where the recipe gets a bit complicated. First, open the doors to your cupboard filled with dry goods and canned food that will last a nuclear blast. If it’s empty, resign yourself to fried spiced lamb. If you’re as crazy as I am, there’ll be countless cans and tetrapacks of a variety of tomatoes and beans in there. Depending on how lazy you’re feeling, get out the tin of plum tomatoes and chop them, or just snip open the pack of Parmalat chopped tomatoes, bought just for such occasions. Apply to lamb in oven-proof dish. When that’s done, open your choice of canned pre-cooked beans (haricot in this instance). Chickpeas (USA=garbanzo), haricot (USA=navy), cannellini, flageolet and borlotti are my faves for meat stews. Rinse and apply drained product to lamb.
If you’re all organised, you’ll have turned the oven on when you started browning the lamb. If we’d started this in the late afternoon instead of traipsing miles with the dog to get her monthly $100-worth of food and treats, we’d have stuck the oven on at 150ºC and left the lamb in there for ~3 hours. Being late, the lamb went in for 30 min at 180ºC (350ºF) just the get the whole thing hot and bubbly, and was later turned down to 150ºC (300ºF) for a further hour. Since the chores took longer, the lamb stew sat longer too: ~2 hours, and was probably better for it.
If we had potatoes, I’d have thrown some in for a one-pot meal. But they don’t keep so well here, so we keep rice, noods and pasta as the starchy standbys instead. Basmati rice was chosen to make fake “polo” with dried cranberries. These delightful cranberries were Trader Joe’s version infused with orange, which really helps to achieve that fruity polo effect.
And as you can see, I licked the plate clean:
Dithering about which wine to have, we eventually settled on the 2005 Paso Robles Barbera3 from Eberle. I say “we” because there was a bit of “discussion” as to which of our too-many wines would go well with the stew. It’s easier when you only have one red and one white in the house. At any rate, we were doubtful that the P.Noir (silly name) would live up to the strong lambiness of the stew, a Sangiovese would be too soon after its outing earlier this week, and the Zinfandels we had would be too spicy. A mildly-spicy Barbera would be able to hold its own against the tomato and lamb. Ah, there we were wrong,. The Barbera out-competed the lamb stew. It was, perhaps, too young, high in alcohol and left a very strong sensation of pepper in the mouth. We’d spiced the stew quite delicately and chosen an overly-spicy wine. Ah well. No matter. The Barbera was saved for after dinner, where it paired brilliantly with a square of Chocolate Negro con Avellana (61% cacao) by Valrhona. The cherriness of the wine was brought out much better after the cocoa fats took some room up on the tongue. Nice one.
1 As far as I can tell, bahar=spice. So it’s a bit of a tautology to say baharat spice.
2 I think it’s about time I start writing down which wines work with what food. Over the years, we’ve had fantastic wines that could have been great with food other than what we drank it with. And the converse. Problem is: we’re forgetful. It has to be stonkingly brilliant, like a Margaux with roast duck, to make it memorable.
3 55% Steinbek Vineyard, 45% Christian-Lazo Vineyard. Isn’t it cute how they put down which vineyard the grapes came from. I almost feel like I should have a mini-pilgrimage to each vineyard from which wines I have loved were birthed…