Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lamb stew with aubergines and turnips

Ideally, one should add vegetables to a stew to give them just enough time in which to cook. Incorporating them at the start is a bad idea, because they will be overcooked before the meat is ready. But you cannot be confident of the optimum timing with the aubergines and turnips in this dish. One hour worked for me; but I needed to fiddle around with temperature settings, and to give the stew regular stirs, to ensure that the pot continued simmering and that the vegetables softened evenly.

(I know that carrots are a standard ingredient of many stews, but I don't like using them in this way. Overcooked, as they usually are, they lose all flavour. The exceptions are baby carrots cooked whole in a dish such as poule au pot or bollito misto.)

For 4

750g stewing lamb (I used pieces of middle neck)
Sunflower oil
2 red onions, roughly chopped
1 head garlic, separated into unpeeled cloves
1 bay leaf
200ml chicken stock
1 large aubergine, cubed
4 small turnips, peeled and sliced, or cut into chunks if you prefer

Coat the lamb in a little sunflower oil, salt it, and brown it quickly on a ridged grill pan (or in a heavy frying pan) over a high heat. Remove to a plate.

Put 2tbsps sunflower oil over a low to medium heat, and soften the onion for 10 minutes or so. Throw in the garlic cloves and bay leaf, and pour in the stock. Put the lamb pieces into the stew. You'll find that the liquid comes about half way up the meat; but after the pot has been in the oven for an hour or so, the meat will probably be submerged. Add more salt, if you like.

I put this dish into the oven for three and a half hours at gas mark S/130C. That setting will cause a stew in my Le Creuset pot to simmer gently. But your oven, and pot, may behave differently.

Stir in the aubergine and turnips with about an hour to go, and bring the stew to a simmering point before returning it to the oven. Turn up the dial temporarily to gas mark 6/200C, until the stew is simmering again - you may be surprised to find, if you have a heavy pot, that even at this setting the stew make take 20 minutes or longer to return to simmering point. Return to gas mark S. Check the ingredients at intervals, stirring them.

I served the stew, with its generous quantity of sauce, in bowls with couscous. So I might have spiced it (along the lines of this version), had there not been objectors to spicy food at the table. For myself, I mixed some of the sauce with harissa.

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