This is the best Irish stew recipe for a deeply flavoured classic Irish stew with a rich gravy thanks to an easy roux – and half a bottle of Shiraz. Dishes don’t get more Irish than this traditional Irish stew, considered by many to be Ireland’s national dish, making it the perfect dish to cook for St Patrick’s Day.
We’re using St Patrick’s Day as an excuse to cook Irish food this week. Terence made a delicious breakfast colcannon with bacon and eggs for Weekend Eggs (you seriously need to make this for breakfast on St Paddy’s Day!) and today we’re sharing a classic Irish stew recipe for an incredibly rich and deeply flavoured traditional Irish stew, Ireland’s national dish.
While Terence is the one with Irish ancestry in this little family and Irish stews were part of his mother’s repertoire, I’ve taken on Irish stew duties this week as I grew up eating and later cooking Russian stews and I have to confess to having a thing about stews. Have you made my Russian beef stew?
If you’re also a stew lover, you’re going to adore this Irish stew recipe. It makes an incredibly rich Irish stew that’s deeply flavoured thanks to slow-cooking, half a bottle of Shiraz and an easy roux – melted butter and flour whisked with the stew juices to create a flavourful gravy that’s stirred into the stew. A roux is an essential component of a classic Irish stew, and indeed many stews.
We’ve got more Irish recipes coming over the next days, however, until then do take a look at Terence’s divine crispy salmon fillet with Irish colcannon with prawns. It’s based on a dish by Irish chef Liam Tomlin, who helmed Banc, which was one of our favourite Sydney restaurants before its closure, and it’s one of our favourite dishes. Terence has been making it for many years.
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Irish Stew Recipe for a Rich Deeply Flavoured Traditional Irish Beef Stew
This is the best Irish stew recipe for a deeply-flavoured classic Irish stew with a rich gravy thanks to slow-cooking, an easy roux and half a bottle of wine. Arguably Ireland’s national dish, a traditional Irish stew is mostly made with lamb these days, but historically, beef, which was considered ‘winter food’ was used in stews.
In A History of Irish Cuisine, Before and After the Potato, Irish academic John Linnane writes that in the period before Christianity, animal husbandry was the dominant food production and a man’s wealth was judged by the amount of cattle he kept. One archaeological study of 19,000 ancient bones identified 54% belonging to cattle, 36% to pigs and just 7% belonging to sheep and goats.
Beef was considered ‘winter food’ and dominated food production until the potato was introduced in the 17th century. Cattle were kept for milk, curds and other dairy products – which were known as ‘white meat’ and ‘summer food’ – until winter, when there was insufficient fodder for the animals, so non-breeding cattle were culled dramatically and salted to be used over the cold months.
The beef, which was typically tough, was cooked in a cauldron for many hours, to make beef stew, while calves were spit-roasted over an open fire. Blood pudding was also popular. While bread wasn’t eaten in large quantities, oat bread was broken up and used as a thickening agent, and added to beef stews and soups, as well as used to mop up the juices of the stews.
Linnane claims that there’s little evidence of vegetables being eaten other than onions used in stews until the 12th century, when chives, leeks, carrots and parsnips start to get mentioned and are used in stews. The Normans introduced peas and beans, then came turnips, all of which got thrown into stews. Cabbage and kale appeared, along with watercress and other water plants, and wild mushrooms were foraged and dried for winter – and all were used in stews.
The potato didn’t get used in stews and soups until the 18th century. Linnane writes: “…much of what is today regarded as traditional Irish cuisine – soda bread, apple tart, barm-brack, boxty, champ, colcannon, Irish stew, potatoes and bacon and Dublin coddle – ere only then being developed in the kitchens of the solid farming classes. From the early 18th century onwards no meal was considered complete without potatoes.” And I’ll tell you more about potatoes in the next Irish recipe post.
While you could certainly use lamb or mutton instead of beef in this Irish stew recipe, what can’t be substituted are root vegetables, such as onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, and turnips. Take your pick! We’ve stuck to whole garlic, purple shallots (but any baby onions are fine), and good old fashioned carrots.
I’ve skipped the turnips, as we can’t get them here, and I’ve not used potatoes, because despite potatoes being such a quintessential Irish ingredient, there actually aren’t a lot of traditional Irish stew recipes that use potato, surprisingly.
There is an Irish stew recipe that uses the Irish dry stout beer, the best-known of which is Guinness, however, the older Irish stew recipes used red wine, which was traded with the Gauls, so I’ve gone with wine for this Irish stew recipe. Indeed, I’ve used half a bottle of a decent Australian shiraz, but any good medium- to full-bodied red would work.
Most Irish stew recipes call for a roux made with butter and flour that’s then added to some of the stew juices. It’s a quick and easy step and it results in an incredibly rich gravy that not only thickens the stew but adds a wonderful depth of flavour.
Don’t be intimidated by the idea of making a roux – it’s super easy – and follow recipes that call for simply adding flour to the stew as you risk creating a lumpy stew gravy that’s not at all pleasant to eat. Making the roux takes a few minutes, five minutes max, and is essential.
Just a few tips to making our traditional Irish stew recipe, below, which is one of the best Irish stew recipes as far as I’m concerned. I’d love to know what you think if you make this.
Tips to Making this Classic Irish Stew Recipe
I only have a few quick tips to making our classic Irish stew recipe, starting with marinating the beef cubes in Worcestershire sauce and a good extra virgin olive oil. Many Irish chefs and home cooks marinate their meat in Worcestershire and there’s a reason: it works! It tenderises the toughest beef, resulting in fall-apart flavourful meat.
I have to make this stew with Khmer beef, as imported beef is so expensive. Khmer beef is incredibly tough, with little fat, as the cattle are so lean from spending their lives working in the fields, so I guarantee you this method tenderises the toughest meat. We always think that these dishes using the cheapest cuts means that you can spend more on the wine to go with it!
While I’ve recommended marinating the beef cubes for an hour, some chefs suggest up to two hours, however, no longer. The minimum duration is 30 minutes and maximum two hours, as beyond that time it loses its structure and just gets too soft, and you still want some texture and some chew.
Searing the beef is a given for most stews, not only Irish stews, as searing locks in flavour, however, not all stew-makers fry vegetables first. My dad used to just throw all the veggies in the pot. However, most Irish chefs recommend frying the vegetables separately first and then transferring them to the stew pot.
And about that stew pot… we use a Dutch oven. We highly recommend a Dutch oven for this Irish stew. We recommend either a Le Creuset Dutch oven if you can afford it or a more affordable Lodge Dutch oven. We love our Dutch oven as you can make so many dishes with Dutch ovens. (See our Dutch oven recipes here.)
But by all means use whatever you usually make your stews in, whether it’s a big stew pot or deep skillet. For frying the vegetables, I use a round flat bottomed wok instead of a skillet or frying pan as it cooks everything much faster, but, again, use what you’re used to and prefer.
My Irish stew recipe calls for an absolute minimum of one hour for simmering but it’s called slow cooking for a reason. The longer you leave your stew on the stove the better. The stew you see in the images here simmered away for four hours, which is what made it the best Irish stew I’ve ever made.
While you’ll have a very delicious stew after an hour, if you have the time to leave the stew on for longer, do take that time. Put on some music, open a bottle of wine, do the dishes, and just take time to catch up with your loved-ones while your stew simmers on the stove and those wonderful aromas permeate your home. I’ll happily take four hours every single time to make this Irish stew recipe.
Irish Stew Recipe
- 1 kg topside beef cut into 3cm cubes
- 30 ml Worcestershire sauce
- 30 ml virgin olive oil
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 8 cloves of garlic peeled and pounded a little in a mortar and pestle
- 150 g smoked bacon diced
- 10 small purple shallots or baby onions peeled
- 3 large carrots sliced into rounds, halves or quarters, roughly the same size
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground cracked black pepper
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh rosemary chopped
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 500 ml full-bodied red wine such as Shiraz
- 500 ml beef stock
- 40 g butter
- 40 g flour
- 1 tbsp fresh celery leaves or flat leaf parsley roughly chopped
- Marinate the beef cubes in 30 ml Worcestershire sauce and 30 ml olive oil in zip-lock bags or a bowl for 1 hour, ensuring the beef is completely covered in the marinade.
- While the beef is marinating, in a flat-bottomed wok, skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat fry the lightly pounded garlic cloves in two tablespoons of olive oil until golden and fragrant, then transfer to your Dutch oven or heavy stew pot, then fry the bacon in the same oil and transfer to the stew pot.
- Top up the oil with another two tablespoons of olive oil, turn the heat to high, then fry the vegetables for a few minutes until blistered, one ingredient at a time, seasoning each with a pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground cracked black pepper, then transfer to the Dutch oven or stew pot.
- Tip the beef cubes and marinade into the same pan and sear over high heat until brown, then transfer to the pot, along with any remaining marinade.
- Add the red wine, beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, and herbs to the pot, stir to combine everything, and simmer on low heat, covered, for an hour or two until the beef is tender. The longer you can leave the stew to simmer the better; stir occasionally to ensure it’s not sticking.
- When the beef is tender, with a large ladle transfer 3-4 scoops of the stew liquid to a small pot and over high heat bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
- In a small frying pan over medium heat, make the roux by melting the butter, then adding the flour, one tablespoon at a time, stirring until the flour is fully dissolved, and continuing to stir for a couple of minutes.
- Gradually transfer the roux to the small pot of boiled stew juices, whisking to combine well to create a thick full-flavoured gravy. Add this to the Dutch oven/stew pot and stir to incorporate.
- Taste the stew and adjust the seasoning to your palate, then garnish with fresh thyme or rosemary, sprinkle with chopped fresh celery leaves or flat-leaf parsley, and serve with mashed potatoes or dumplings.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you make our classic Irish stew recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.