On March 17, 2013 Glenn celebrated his fifth birthday. He was already married, had recorded an album and bought a home, which is a lot for a five year-old. But the lucky guy actually has two birthdays: the first marks his birth and the second marks his time as a US resident.
Because he'd received his residency card, which marked his “American birthday” on St. Patrick’s Day 2008, he and Marita could think of no better way to celebrate than to make a meal reminiscent of Glenn’s grandmother’s cooking back in Ireland, so Marita’s mom jumped on the Sac Bee’s website and found a recipe for Irish-American stew. Times were a bit lean, so Marita and Glenn tweaked the recipe a bit adding turkey thighs to lamb and beef. They cooked up the stew, and along with a few family members they tucked themselves around the table and devoured the delectable dish.
When the next St. Paddy’s Day rolled around, Marita and Glenn invited close friends and family over for stew, but they also asked their guests to bring an Irish edible as well. “Everyone loves St. Patrick’s Day,” Marita says, so it was a treat for her to open their home and challenge friends to push themselves as cooks. Over the years, their guests have taken on the tradition as their own plotting dishes months in advance, happy to slip from the requisite Irish cheese and salmon supplier to chef. Some guests make more traditional recipes like Irish soda bread and Shepherd’s Pie while others opt to link US traditions with Irish bringing corned beef and cabbage or even Irish Car Bomb cupcakes loaded with a chocolate center surprise. Each year table space becomes prime real estate as Glenn and Marita open their home to guests who get to do more than wear the pincher-free green and guzzle Guinness—though plenty of guzzling goes on.
In fact imbibing begins early as Marita and Glenn start off the stew-making process with a toast; the couple sips Guinness and Baileys as beef browns in Irish butter and veggies swirl in broth. They toss in ingredients Glenn recognizes from his grandmother’s stew: peas, carrots, potato, onion. But they also add mushroom and turkey meat making the dish their own. As they pour in the flour/cream concoction, Glenn explains, “back home we add milk while we’re eating just to get the stew to cool.” Here, though, they add the thickener and let the stew settle into itself, adding layer upon layer of flavor until guests arrive.
While Glenn’s the Irishman in the family, Marita waits all year for St. Paddy’s Day because it’s “the one time he’ll let [her] play up Irishness,” something she’d been drawn to well before they met. She plugs in Pandora and dials in the St. Paddy's station, jigs and reels dancing through speakers. She leans against the wall surveying the setting, not because she’s looking to perfect an error. She takes in the scene because this is the one time each year the couple focuses on his tradition instead of hers. She measures the moments and commits it all to memory, for some years are long and she means to carry it all with her until the following March when they do it all over again.
Click here to see the history behind the recipe.
Irish American Lamb Stew with Stout
2 tb butter
3 lbs boneless lamb, beef or turkey thigh meat (or a combination of any)
12 oz Guinness stout
2 3/4 cups beef broth (have some on hand to add if your stew gets too thick after sitting)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 lb pearl onions (we use frozen)
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
3-4 peeled, chopped carrots
3-4 cubed large potatoes (we use Russet)
1 lb halved or sliced white mushrooms
1 cup half and half
1/4 cup flour
Heat butter over medium heat, add meat and brown, in batches if your pan is smaller. Pour in stout and bring to a boil. Add broth, salt, pepper, thyme, onions, carrots and potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer on low for 45 minutes. Skim off any fat. Add peas and mushrooms. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes until veggies are tender. In a small bowl or pyrex mesuring cup whisk together the half and half and flour. Stir into stew and simmer for 3-5 minutes until stew thickens. Add more salt and pepper to taste, if needed.
Stew is always better when it has time to rest; we make ours at least one day in advance, two is better.