Forget the cold weather with a bowl of delicious slow cooker Irish lamb stew. It’s packed with plenty of vegetables swimming in a thick meaty gravy, with added goodness from the addition of barley. Just grab a slice of crusty bread and dive right in!
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Irish Lamb Stew – a traditional favourite
There are very good reasons why old traditional recipes remain popular year after year. It’s because they are made with simple ingredients and easy fuss-free preparation. Take my meat and potato pie for example. It’s made with only meat, potatoes and onions, and a few simple flavouring ingredients, yet it has such a depth of flavour you’d think it had a list of ingredients as long as your arm.
This Irish lamb stew is another such recipe. Traditionally Irish lamb stew was made with only 4 ingredients – lamb (or mutton or goat), potatoes, onions, and carrots, seasoned with salt and pepper and left to simmer in a pot of water until tender. You can’t get much easier than that!
For my version, I’ve taken the liberty of adding extra vegetables and a handful of pearl barley for even more goodness. I’ve also made it in my slow cooker to give the lamb plenty of time to break down and become tender and succulent.
What meat should I use?
The best cut of meat to use for Irish lamb stew is boneless shoulder of lamb, which should be cut into bite-sized cubes. You can get your butcher to debone it for you or buy it ready-cubed from the supermarket. This cut of meat is ideally suited to being cooked in a slow cooker. The long slow cooking time gives the tough connective tissues in the meat plenty of time to break down, leaving you with soft, juicy chunks of meat that simply melt in your mouth.
If you can’t get hold of lamb shoulder, the next best choice would be lamb neck fillet, or even lamb shanks, ribs or flank.
To enrich the stew, and also help it to thicken, the lamb is coated in seasoned flour and browned in a frying pan before it is added to the slow cooker. If you are in a hurry to get the stew into the slow cooker you can skip this step, but I wouldn’t advise it. Browning the meat first does add another element of flavour to the stew, plus it only takes a few minutes extra.
For the vegetables, you can use any mixture of root vegetables, and also hardier vegetables such as celery and cabbage. I would tend to steer clear of the softer vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, and marrows as these would become mushy during the long cooking process. For a little colour and pops of sweetness, I like to add a handful of frozen peas 10 minutes before the stew is served.
The pearl barley adds additional texture, and also a mild nutty taste. Barley is also extremely nutritious and is believed to have a number of health benefits, such as helping to reduce cholesterol and improve digestion. You can read more on the benefits of eating barley in this article from the Healthline website.
This recipe will feed 4 to 6 people.
**You can get the complete list of ingredients and step by step instructions for making this Irish lamb stew on the printable recipe card at the end of this post**
Lamb shoulder – this is the best cut for Irish stew. There should be a good amount of marbling running through the flesh. The meat should be cut into large bite-sized chunks, and most of the visible fat should be removed.
Flour – this is used for coating the meat before frying, and it should be seasoned with salt, ground black pepper and dried thyme. If you don’t have dried thyme, then you could use dried rosemary, or leave it out altogether.
Vegetables – you can use any combination of vegetables. I used potatoes, onions, carrots, and celery. You could also use swedes, turnips, leeks, cabbage, or any other ‘firm’ vegetables.
Garlic – lamb and garlic go so well together so I always like to add one or two cloves of minced garlic. If you’re not a garlic lover you can leave it out.
Pearl barley – once again this is optional. If you do decide to use it be careful not to add too much. It swells up quite a bit when it cooks so you only need a small amount. When I made this recipe I used half a cup of barley which was actually too much. One-quarter of a cup is plenty.
Stock – not pictured – I used vegetable stock cubes dissolved in boiling water. If you have fresh stock, by all means use that instead of the stock cubes.
Worcestershire sauce – to add a little richness to the gravy.
Oil – sunflower or other neutral flavoured oil for browning the meat.
How to make Irish lamb stew
This recipe is made in a slow cooker. If you don’t have a slow cooker I’ve given instructions for cooking it on the stovetop. For the quantities given, you will need at least a 3.5-litre (7 to 8 pints) slow cooker.
Most of the work is in the preparation. Once that’s out of the way this lamb stew basically cooks itself.
- Cut the meat into cubes and remove any visible fat. Don’t worry about the streaks of fat running through the meat, this will break down as the meat cooks. Pat the meat with paper towels to remove any excess moisture. This will ensure the flour sticks evenly to the meat and doesn’t form any lumps.
- Peel the vegetables and cut them into chunks. Don’t make the potatoes and carrots too small or they will overcook and turn mushy. Depending on the size of the potatoes, cut them either into 4, 6 or even 8 pieces. Cut the carrots into approximately 1-inch pieces. Thicker pieces towards the top of the carrot should be cut in half. Onions and celery can be cut into half-inch pieces.
- Dissolve 3 vegetable stock cubes in 3 cups of boiling water and set aside.
- Peel and crush the cloves of garlic.
Fry the meat
- Coat the meat with flour. The easiest way to do this is to put the flour, salt, pepper and thyme into a large plastic bag. Add the meat, then rotate the bag to coat the meat evenly with flour. Another way would be to place the meat in a large mixing bowl and add the flour and seasoning. Then get your hands in and mix the flour through the meat.
- Heat the sunflower oil in a large frying pan and fry the meat in batches until it is nicely browned on all sides. Use a spatula to help you turn the meat. Keep the heat quite high so that the meat browns. If the heat is too low the meat will release its juices and will boil rather than brown. Also don’t overload the pan with meat. If you add too much at once the temperature of the oil will drop and the meat will release moisture.
- As each batch of meat browns, transfer it to the slow cooker.
Add the vegetables and cook
- Once the meat has been browned and is in the slow cooker, tip the barley into the slow cooker, followed by the vegetables.
- Finally, add the stock, Worcestershire sauce and minced garlic and give it all a stir.
- I cooked mine on high and it was done after 5 hours. Some slow cookers have a medium setting. I would suggest you consult the manual for your own particular model.
- 10 minutes before you are ready to serve this Irish lamb stew, add half a cup of frozen peas and stir through. The frozen peas are already cooked so they just need time to heat up.
- At this time you can taste for seasoning and add additional salt if necessary
- You shouldn’t have to thicken the gravy as the barley and the starch from the potatoes should thicken it sufficiently. If you do need to thicken it, mix a slurry of 1 teaspoon of cornflour and 2 tablespoons of water and drizzle it slowly into the stew, stirring all the while. You may not need all the cornflour.
- Three cups of stock should be sufficient liquid, but do check occasionally. If you need to top up, add another cup of stock. The amount of stock will depend on how much liquid evaporates during cooking, and also how much liquid the barley absorbs.
Cook on the stove
You can cook this Irish lamb stew in a saucepan on the stove.
Follow the recipe instructions, but put all the ingredients into a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid.
Bring the stew to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover the saucepan with the lid and simmer for 1 and a half to two hours, or until the meat is tender.
Keep your eye on it – the liquid may evaporate more in a saucepan than in a slow cooker. Top up with extra stock if you think it needs it.
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Yes, any cut of beef that is suitable for a slow cooking process would be suitable. Why not try making this stew with chuck, flank, sirloin, brisket, or even shin. As long as the beef has plenty of connective tissue you can use it for this stew.
Yes, the stew freezes well. I normally make a large batch and freeze leftovers for another meal. Pack the cooled stew into rigid plastic (Tupperware) containers, label, and freeze for up to 4 months. Let it defrost in the refrigerator, then tip it into a saucepan and heat until piping hot. You may find that you need to add an additional cup of stock to the defrosted stew.
If you are planning on serving the leftovers for another meal, without freezing them, you can store this stew for 3 days in a covered container in the refrigerator. Reheat in a saucepan on the stove.
Pin for later
If you would like to make this Irish lamb stew, why not pin the recipe to one of your Pinterest boards so you can find it easily? Just click the image below.
Perhaps you’d also like to try some of my other lamb recipes:
- Leftover lamb pies – with the lightest, crispiest pastry – it’s like having a roast lamb dinner in a pie.
- Tandoori lamb chops with saag aloo and garlic naan – if you like curry, then this is the meal for you.
- South African lamb bredie – a South African version of a lamb stew.
- Traditional Lancashire hotpot – traditional British cooking at its finest. Tender lamb cooked in a casserole topped with sliced potatoes.
- Easy lamb curry – make it as mild or as spicy as you prefer.
Slow cooker Irish lamb stew with barley
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- 2 pounds / 900 grams lamb shoulder cubed and visible fat removed
- ⅓ cup / 50 grams flour for coating the lamb
- ½ teaspoon `salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 pound / 450 grams potatoes peeled and quartered
- ½ pound / 225 grams carrots peeled and thickly sliced
- 1 large white onion peeled and coarsely chopped
- 2 large stalks celery chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ¼ cup / 50 grams pearl barley
- 3 vegetable stock cubes or vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 to 3 tablespoons sunflower oil for frying the meat
- Cut the meat into cubes and remove any excess fat and pat with paper towels to remove any excess moisture. Peel and chop the vegetables. Peel and mince the garlic. Dissolve the stock cubes in 3 cups of boiling water.2 pounds / 900 grams lamb shoulder, 1 pound / 450 grams potatoes, ½ pound / 225 grams carrots, 1 large white onion, 2 large stalks celery, 2 cloves garlic
- Combine the salt, pepper, and thyme with the flour and use it to coat the meat. Make sure each piece of meat is thoroughly coated.⅓ cup / 50 grams flour, ½ teaspoon `salt, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- Heat the sunflower oil in a large frying pan and fry the meat in batches until it is nicely browned on all sides. Use a spatula to help you turn the meat. Keep the heat quite high so that the meat browns. If the heat is too low the meat will release its juices and will boil rather than brown. Also don't overload the pan with meat. If you add too much at once the temperature of the oil will drop and the meat will release moisture.As each batch of meat browns, transfer it to the slow cooker.2 to 3 tablespoons sunflower oil
- Once the meat has been browned and is in the slow cooker, tip the barley into the slow cooker, followed by the chopped vegetables.¼ cup / 50 grams
- Add the stock, Worcestershire sauce and minced garlic and give it all a stir.2 cloves garlic, 3 vegetable stock cubes, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours on on high for 4 to 6 hours. Consult the instruction book for your own particular model of slow cooker for exact timings.
- 10 minutes before you are ready to serve this Irish lamb stew, add half a cup of frozen peas and stir through.
- Taste for seasoning and add extra salt if necessary.
- Serve hot with crusty bread rolls.
I am not a nutritionist. The nutrition information has been calculated using an on-line calculator, and is intended for information and guidance purposes only. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should consider calculating it yourself, using your preferred tool.
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