In my family, the men cook. At least most of them do. My brother-in-law Andy can’t boil water (or so my sister Annmarie claims), but the rest know their way around the kitchen, including my dad.
Mind you, that wasn’t always the case. When my sisters and I were little, our mom worked the occasional evening shift in a local bookstore. On those nights, Dad’s answer to the dinner question all too often involved eggs and pancakes. Our response to that menu, just as often, involved tears. To this day, none of us want anything to do with breakfast for dinner.
With time, however, Dad’s culinary skills improved, and a few years back, when I was home visiting, Mom went out for the evening and he whipped up a lamb and mushroom stew for us. This time, there were no tears.
Since then, I’ve played around with Dad’s original recipe quite a bit, including nixing the canned mushrooms (sorry Dad) and adding spiced sweet potatoes. Now, when the windows start to frost over, I head to the store in search of inexpensive lamb.
Last week, the windows did this:
Hence, lamb was on the menu.
The great thing about this stew is that it seems impressive. After all…lamb. But it’s actually a ridiculously simple dish. Also, if you find lamb shoulder on sale (which I did—thank you, Kroger), it’s as cheap as it is simple, making it a natural choice for a winter dinner party…or an easy family dinner. The groceries for the stew came in at just under $10. If there weren’t tomatoes in the freezer (put up from last summer’s garden), it would have cost $12.
There’s not much you can do to ruin this stew, save for rushing it. The whole thing needs to simmer for a full two hours. Not 90 minutes. Not 60 minutes. But really, 120 minutes. I mean, you won’t die of food poisoning if you take it off the stovetop after an hour. But the lamb won’t be fall-off-the-bone-tender-tastes-likes-a-really-expensive-cut-when-it’s-actually-just-a-cheap-shoulder, either. Plus, it will be kinda runny.
So, your choice: Tough lamb in a runny sauce…or delicious.
Lamb & Sweet Potato Stew
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
- 1.5 lbs. of lamb shoulder, bone-in
- 8 oz. white button mushrooms, sliced
- 2 15 oz. cans of diced tomatoes
- 1 large sweet potato, roughly chopped
- 4-5 T. Olive Oil
- 2 T. sugar
- Kosher salt
- .5 T. cajun seasoning (I use Tony Chachere’s)
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
- Fresh rosemary (optional)
- In a large pot, heat 2 T. oil over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot enough to sizzle (go ahead and test with a few drops of water), add in the whole pieces of lamb shoulder. Brown on both sides (about 2-3 minutes per side).
- Add in tomatoes, using the juices to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.
- Stir in the sliced mushrooms, sugar, and about 1 teaspoon of salt.
- Reduce heat to low. Cover and allow to simmer for two hours.
- When the stew is about 30 minutes from done, pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees; line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (this will save you time on clean up); spread out the sweet potatoes and crushed garlic; drizzle with remaining oil; and season with your cajun spices; bake for 20-25 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and lightly browned.
- After the meat has simmered for at least two hours, remove the lamb from the pot and separate the meat from the bone. This should be easy. The meat should be falling off the bone, almost of its own accord, at this point. Cut the meat into bite-size pieces, then return to the pot, discarding the bones.
- Add in roasted sweet potatoes and check seasoning to taste, adding more salt or sugar if desired.
- Before serving, garnish with a sprig or scattering of fresh rosemary.
- I used white button mushrooms because they were on sale, but feel free to experiment with this ingredient. Cremini or portobello would also be delicious.
- Don’t panic if the stew looks watery 30 minutes in. The mushrooms and tomatoes produce a lot of liquid, but the longer you cook it, the thicker it will get. Likewise, once the lamb is chopped and the sweet potatoes are thrown in, most of the excess liquid will just disappear. Promise.
- When removing the whole pieces of lamb, keep an eye out for falling bones. Because the meat is so tender at this point, some might fall off the bone before you remove it, which can result in the occasional stray bone in the sauce if you’re not careful.
- Again, take your time with this. I cook the stew for a full two hours on low. Long, slow heat is what you need to both thicken up the stew and get lamb that falls off the bone.