As the holidays roll towards us like lava—kind of fast, kind of slow, but definitely approaching – we tend to focus hard on some of the big holiday meals. But there are also times when we have some guests over, maybe just some extended family, and it’s not a “Big Holiday Meal” night, but rather a “Let’s Do Something a Little Festive But Also Very Homey” night. That’s a night for lamb stew.
If you are a person who thinks lamb might be intimidating to cook, a) nope, and b) if you’re just getting started with lamb at home, start with stew, because (like a beef stew) the only secret is to cook the meat low and slow, until it is meltingly tender. Lamb has a terrific depth of flavor, and tastes like something special—for this stew, use leg or shoulder meat, any part of the lamb that requires a long low simmer to become meltingly tender and flavorful.
My people are big lamb fans. Charlie in particular lights up when he hears there’s lamb on the menu, and this stew made everyone extremely happy. I am more than pleased to say that I am partnering up with the American Lamb Board, which supports local farmers and ranchers throughout the U.S. Did you know that there are more than 80,000 family-owned sheep farms and ranches in his country? And that lamb is responsibly raised and produced in every state? That was news to me. There’s lots to know about American lamb, and as you may know if you are familiar with this blog, it’s a fan favorite at our table, and there will definitely be more to come.
Back to the stew. If you can, start browning the lamb, and then use the browning time (you’ll want to do this in a few batches for maximum caramelization) to cut up the vegetables. There’s not a ton of prep for this lovely Mediterranean stew, just slicing up couple of fennel bulbs and some shallots, and then smashing a handful of garlic cloves. Easy peasy, and then when the meat is done browning the vegetables can go right into the pot.
Lamb stew is the perfect intersection between comfort food and something special.Tweet This
The bottom of the pan should have lots of browned bits stuck to it after searing the meat, which is a very good thing. When you sauté the vegetables in a bit of oil in the pan, you’ll start to scrape up those little bits of caramelized flavor (yes, I’m using the word caramelized again because it’s a very beautiful word), and then when the white wine hits the pan it will release any leftover bits of deliciousness stick to the bottom.
The croutons, or crostini, that go with this stew are absolutely not essential, BUT if you are looking to impress they are absolutely the way to go. True aioli is a homemade garlicky mayonnaise sauce, made from scratch with egg yolks and oil, and often other seasonings as well.
But in my house, starting with a jar of good mayo is usually the reality of the situation, and when you doctor up this mayo, it adds quite a sultry little finishing touch to all sorts of dishes. In this case, black olives, roasted red peppers, and some other salty additions contrast with the richness of the lamb stew and give the whole dish a bit of pop.
You can serve this over mashed potatoes, boiled or steamed potatoes, a thick base layer of rice, or even over something like couscous for a nice twist. Pretty much any starch is your friend here. It’s nice to have something to soak up this very thick and savory sauce.
And when the meat is tender you also have a couple of choices: keep it in chunks/cubes, which will be fork tender…. or take advantage of the fall-apart tenderness and use a couple of forks to slightly shred the meat into the sauce so it’s almost a ragu-like stew. No wrong decisions here, gang.
Lamb Stew with White Wine, Orange and Fennel
- 2 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 4 pounds American lamb shoulder cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 large fennel bulbs quartered and thinly sliced, or chopped
- 3 shallots thinly sliced
- 6 garlic cloves crushed
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 cups dry white wine
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cups water
- Zest and juice of 2 oranges
For the Croutons with Shortcut Roasted Pepper Olive Aioli (Optional)
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a Dutch oven or large heavy pot, such as enameled cast iron, over medium high heat. In small batches, so the meat isn’t crowded in the pan, brown the lamb, about 8 minutes per batch, seasoning with salt and pepper. Not every side has to be browned, but make sure most of them are, and that they have deep color on them. As you finish each batch, transfer it to a large plate or bowl.
- Drain off any excess fat, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and return the pot to medium-low heat. Add the fennel, shallots and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes until everything has started to soften and turn a bit golden. Stir in the flour, coriander and cumin, until everything is well blended and you can smell the spices, about 2 minutes. Return the lamb to the pot, and stir to coat the lamb with the seasoned vegetable mixture.
- Add the wine and stir to help any browned bits to release from the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves and water, season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Turn the heat to medium high, and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium, low, making sure the mixture stays at a soft but steady simmer. Simmer and stir occasionally for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until the sauce is quite thick and the meat is falling-apart tender – add more water if the sauce seems to be evaporating too quickly, or the stew begins to stick to the bottom of the pan.
- If you wish to make the croutons, while the stew is cooking, preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush the baguette slices with the 2 tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle lightly with salt, and place on a baking sheet. Toast for about 4 minutes until just starting to turn golden. Remove and transfer to a place on a plate.
- In a small food processor combine the black olives, anchovy, capers, garlic and peppers. Add the mayonnaise and process until smooth. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.
- When the stew has finished cooking, taste and add salt and pepper as needed, then stir in the orange juice and half of the zest. Serve the stew in individual bowls, with some of the aioli spooned onto the croutons and tucked alongside the stew. Sprinkle the remaining orange zest over the tops of the bowls, and lay a little sprig of thyme or two over the top if you are going for a little showy presentation.
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