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Ballymaloe Irish Stew

Serves 4-6

1.35-1.5kg or 2 x 1/2 lb lamb chops (cutlets or gigot), not less than 2.5cm/1in thick
6 carrots, cut into large chunks
6 onions, cut into quarters (through the root)
750-900ml or 1.25 - 1.5 pints lamb or chicken stock (or water)
8-12 potatoes (more if you like!)
1 fresh thyme sprig
1 tbsp softened butter (optional)
1 tbsp plain flour (optional)
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp snipped fresh chives
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 (optional). Cut any large chops in half and trim off all the excess fat, then render down the fat over a gentle heat in a heavy-based frying pan. Discard the rendered down pieces. Toss the chops into the pan and cook until lightly browned, turning occasionally. Transfer to a plate, then quickly toss the onions into the fat and then the carrots. Build the lamb, carrots and onions up in layers in a large casserole dish, seasoning each layer as you go. De-glaze the pan with stock and pour into the casserole.

Lay the potatoes on top, so they can steam while the stew cooks. Season, then add the thyme and bring to the boil on top of the stove. Cover with a damp paper lid and then cover with the lid of the casserole. Transfer to the oven or allow to simmer on top of the stove for 1 - 1 1/2 hours until the stew is completely cooked, this time will depend on whether it has been made with lamb or hogget.

When the stew is cooked, carefully pour off the cooking liquid into another pan, skim off the grease and re-heat. If you want to thicken the sauce slightly you can make a roux with the butter and flour. Simply, melt the butter in a small pan and stir in the flour, then cook for 1-2 minutes on a low heat, stirring. Whisk into the sauce, a little at a time until you have achieved the desired consistency. Season to taste and add the parsley and chives. Pour the sauce back into the casserole and bring back to boiling point on top of the stove. Serve straight from the pot or in a large pottery dish.

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