This Hearty Irish Stew Is a Best-Seller at My Family’s Pub. Here’s How to Make It at Home.

updated Mar 16, 2021
Kitchn Love Letters
Irish Pub Lamb Stew

This hearty stew is best enjoyed with a thick slab of Irish soda bread slathered with butter and a pint of Guinness.

Serves6 to 8

Prep30 minutes

Cook2 hours

Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
lamb stew sits in a bowl next to a stout beer
Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

In my family, Irish stew is the culinary equivalent of a warm hug. Some years back — when my dad bought a run-down bar in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and transformed it into a charming Irish-style pub — I set about developing a signature stew that was reminiscent of what my Irish-American grandmother used to make. Her stew had a deep meaty flavor, glistening gravy-like broth, and tender chunks of lamb, carrots, and potatoes. Like many grandmothers, she never wrote the recipe down, because there wasn’t one. She made do with what she had and what was available — a lesson I took to heart.

I tinkered and tested, and eventually arrived at a recipe we all agree is pretty darn close. For the benefit of future generations and pub cooks, I wrote the recipe down and it’s been on the menu at Manning’s Irish Pub ever since. On St. Patrick’s Day, they sell hundreds of bowls of the stuff. The recipe specifics have changed a bit over the years depending on who is helming the kitchen, but that’s what makes Irish stew so great: It’s a frugal, simple dish that’s open to interpretation. Here’s how you can make it at home.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

Buying and Cooking the Lamb

Since the slightly gamey flavor of lamb isn’t for everyone, I opted for a mix of lamb and beef chuck for the pub, and it’s what I use at home now, too. Leg of lamb is my favorite cut because it’s tender and readily available in grocery stores. It’s also fairly lean, so there’s less trimming and less skimming. If there are bone-in shoulder lamb chops available, I’ll add one of those; the bones and connective tissue add collagen and flavor to the stew. I never buy pre-cut lamb stew meat because the cubes can be from a variety of cuts, some of which are more tender than others.

To get a good, savory base, I brown the meat in a smoking-hot Dutch oven. (Pro tip: Turn on the exhaust fan before you start cooking the meat.) Cook the meat in batches, leaving enough space between the pieces so it doesn’t steam in its own juices.

The Best Lamb Stew Ingredients

The onions: Next, I sauté sliced yellow onions in the same pot until they’re tender. They’ll pick up all the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, so be patient and let them soften fully. Grandma appointed me the “chief stirrer” for this step when I was a kid, and I took my post on her yellow step stool pulled up to the stove very seriously. Rush this step and your stew will taste of raw onion and lack the sweetness that tempers the slightly bitter flavor of the stout.

The beer: I deglaze with Guinness. I know it’s a contentious addition and my brother has pointed out that our grandmother wouldn’t have wasted perfectly good stout on stew, but at the pub we have barrels of the stuff. The dark, chocolatey flavor marries so well with the other ingredients that I can’t imagine making Irish stew without it now.

The carrots: I purposely buy large, thick carrots for this stew. My grandmother called them “horse carrots,” because it’s what they fed the horses at her childhood farm. Cut into thick slices, they become sweet and fork-tender after the hours of simmering. I personally love the nutty flavor of parsnips in this stew, although they’re optional. Don’t go overboard: Just one is enough. “Any more vegetables in there and people might think we’re running a vegetarian joint,” my dad once quipped.

The potatoes: The stew requires two kinds of potatoes. I thinly slice floury Russets to line the base of the Dutch oven, where they melt into the beer and broth, giving the stew a velvety texture. I put chopped waxy potatoes on top toward the end of cooking so they keep their shape.

The liquid: For liquid, I use whatever homemade lamb or beef broth I have kicking around in my chest freezer. Failing that, there’s always canned beef broth, but I recommend using a good-quality, low-sodium option. Don’t use water: It will give you a thinner, less soulful bowl of stew. I throw in a bay leaf and a few sprigs of fresh thyme, but that’s just my cooking-school education showing; Grandma never bothered with such frippery.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

Simmering and Serving Lamb Stew

Lamb benefits from a slow-and-low simmer, so I pop my stew in the oven and bake it until the lamb is just starting to get tender, about an hour-and-a-half. Then I check it, breathe in the delicious steam, and skim off any fat that floats to the surface. I sprinkle in the waxy potatoes, then put the pot back in the oven with the lid askew to let some of the moisture escape, which thickens the stew. The meat is done when a fork twists easily when inserted into the shoulder chop. That’s usually around 30 to 40 minutes, but it depends on the quality and age of the lamb. Don’t rush it. 

To finish the stew, I give it a final and careful skim. This is important, because if you bought decent marbled meat, some of that fat will float on top of your stew and make it greasy. My grandmother used a big soup spoon bent at a right angle specifically for this purpose, and I do the same. Then I taste it. I’ll add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce to round out the flavors and add a bit more salt, if it needs it. It usually doesn’t. 

The only thing left to do is cut yourself a thick slab of soda bread, pour yourself a Guinness, and pretend you’re at a cozy, rollicking Irish pub like ours. Slainte!

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.

Irish Pub Lamb Stew

This hearty stew is best enjoyed with a thick slab of Irish soda bread slathered with butter and a pint of Guinness.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 2 hours

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    boneless leg of lamb

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    boneless chuck roast

  • 1

    (10-ounce) bone-in lamb shoulder chop

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 2

    medium yellow onions

  • 1 tablespoon

    vegetable oil

  • 1 cup

    Guinness Irish Stout

  • 1

    large russet potato (about 12 ounces)

  • 2

    large carrots

  • 1

    large parsnip (optional)

  • 4 sprigs

    fresh thyme, plus more for garnish

  • 1

    bay leaf

  • 2 to 3 cups

    homemade lamb or beef broth, or store-bought low-sodium beef broth

  • 1 pound

    Yukon Gold potatoes

  • Worcestershire sauce, to taste

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F. Meanwhile, cut 1 1/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb and 1 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck roast into 1-inch pieces, discarding any separable fat from the meat and discarding it. Season the lamb and beef pieces and lamb chop (leave intact) all over with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Halve and thinly slice 2 medium onions.

  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add one handful of the cut meat and sear until browned all over, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and continue browning the remaining meat the same way, reducing the heat if the bits on the bottom of the pot begin to burn. Sear the shoulder chop on both sides until browned, then add to the bowl.

  3. Add the onions to the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and well browned, about 8 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed to prevent the onions from burning. Add 1 cup Guinness Irish Stout and simmer, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the stout has reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Pour the onion and beer mixture into the bowl with the browned meat and turn off the heat.

  4. Peel 1 large russet potato and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices. Arrange the slices in a single layer on the bottom of the Dutch oven. Pour the beef, lamb, and onion mixture back into the pot over the potatoes. Do not stir.

  5. Peel 2 large carrots and cut crosswise on a slight diagonal into 1 1/2-inch wide pieces. Peel and coarsely chop 1 large parsnip, if using. Add the carrots, parsnip, 4 fresh thyme sprigs, and 1 bay leaf to the pot. Pour in enough homemade or low-sodium beef broth to just cover everything. Cover and bake until the meat is fairly tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

  6. Peel and cut 1 pound Yukon gold potatoes into 1/2-inch chunks. Remove the pot from the oven. Skim off any fat that has surfaced on the top of the stew and discard. Put the Yukon gold potatoes on top of the stew but don’t stir them in. Cover with the lid slightly ajar. Bake until the meat and potatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes.

  7. Stir the stew gently to break up the potatoes at the bottom of the pot. Remove the shoulder chop bones and break up the chop meat with a fork, if necessary. Discard the bay leaf and thyme stems. Taste and season with Worcestershire sauce, kosher salt, and black pepper as needed. Garnish with additional chopped thyme leaves, if desired.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The stew is better the next day, so it can be made ahead, cooled, and refrigerated. Rewarm over medium heat.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Meat options: You can make the stew all-beef (skip the shoulder chop) or all-lamb, if preferred.