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With St. Patrick’s Day a few days away, thoughts turn to classic Irish food and, of course, beer.

Today’s recipe features beer and potatoes in one of Ireland’s national dishes: a stew. This stew is a little different in that the meat and vegetables are served with the concentrated beef stock/beer pan juices poured over them.

Guinness, Ireland’s most famous stout, gives this stew its deep flavor. The dark, coffee-colored beer has many culinary uses. While it might look like it would be a heavy beer, its flavor is smooth and light. In cooking, the stout almost cara­melizes, becoming sweet. That’s why you also see it used in cakes, cookies and brownies.

The idea behind a great stew is to take complex flavors and balance them in one pot. You do this by cooking the ingredients, a few at a time at first, to develop their flavor. In this recipe, the protein base is cubed leg of lamb. You could also use beef, if desired.

Typically, leg of lamb that is already boneless is oddly shaped. Take a look at it and figure out how best to cut the lamb in even cubes. Before you get started, trim the lamb of any excess fat.

Once you cube the lamb, pat the pieces dry with paper towel. This helps them sear, instead of steam, and develop a nicely browned, flavorful crust. Also, this helps develop what is called “fond” in the bottom of the pot. Fond are those little bits of food and concentrated juices that are full of flavor.

Next up is the pearl onions. When cooked and browned, these small onions become sweet, adding another layer of flavor.

What you end up with from just those two ingredients is a base of richly concentrated sweet and meaty flavors in a small amount of liquid. You add to that liquid with the beef stock and beer.

When it comes to the potatoes, use a variety that can hold its shape during long cooking. In this recipe, all-purpose Russet potatoes suffice. You can cut them into cubes or thick slices. Creamy smaller potatoes like red skin or Yukon Golds can be used, but add them during the last 30 minutes of cooking, along with the mushrooms. The smaller potatoes tend to cook quicker.

Round out this dish with a pint of Guinness and some bread.

Classic Stout Stew

Serves: 6

Preparation time: 30 minutes (total time: 2 hours, 30 minutes)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 tablespoons butter, divided

2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cubed into 11/2- to 2-inch pieces (pat the cubes dry with paper towel)

8 ounces frozen or fresh pearl onions

1 cup Irish stout such as Guinness

1 cup defatted beef stock or reduced sodium beef broth

Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

1 bouquet garni of parsley, thyme and bay leaf

11/2 pounds favorite potatoes, peeled and cut into thick slices

8 ounces large white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 tablespoon flour

1 teaspoon brown mustard

Fresh thyme sprigs and minced parsley for garnish

In a large, heavy Dutch oven or stockpot heat the oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Add the lamb pieces and brown evenly. Remove the lamb and set aside. Add the pearl onions to the pot and brown for 3-4 minutes.

Return the browned lamb to the pot, add the stout and beef stock and

season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the bouquet garni and sliced potatoes. Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour.

Add the sliced mushrooms, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat and vegetables and place on a warmed, deep-rimmed serving platter. Cover with foil and keep warm in a 200-degree oven. Strain the cooking liquid from the pot; set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and whisk in the flour to make a roux. Cook until bubbly and golden, whisking constantly. Slowly stir in the reserved cooking liquid and cook until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Whisk in the mustard and adjust seasonings to taste. If the mixture is too thick, add more stout, a little at a time. Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables, garnish with thyme and parsley.

Cook’s note: If using fresh pearl onions, place in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Let soak for 5 minutes, then drain. Skins should peel away easily.

Per serving: 419 calories (36 percent from fat), 17 grams fat (6 grams sat. fat), 29 grams carbohydrates,

36 grams protein, 152 mg sodium,

115 mg cholesterol, 31 mg calcium,

3 grams fiber.

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