Let’s be honest here my friends, this dish is literally as meat and potatoes as it gets. At its most basic, this classic stew is comprised of cubed meat, potatoes, carrots, and onion, all cooked down together in beer and stock. It may sound simple, but sometimes simple dishes are the most difficult to get right. Not to mention, there is plenty you can do to personalize them to your own tastes. Irish stew is no exception. Here are some ideas to get out of your stew-making box:

1. Switch up the protein 

Beef or lamb traditionally find their way into Irish stew, and for good reason. There are plenty of tougher cuts to choose from that benefit from the low and slow braising process that turns all of the connective tissue into melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Stay away from generic stewing meat and try other cuts like beef cheek or lamb neck. Mutton, older sheep that produce meat, is fattier and more flavourful and is also an option if you can source it. The same goes for goat, if you like the gaminess that it provides.

The Irish might consider it sacrilege, but you could also omit the meat altogether. Using legumes or pulses instead allows you to create a vegetarian or vegan option that can be just as carnivorous as its meaty cousin. You could also stir in grains to bulk up the stew. Add any of the following:

Black beans
Kidney beans 
Chickpeas 
Lentils (Puy, beluga, red, etc.) 
Freekeh 
Bulgur 
Kamut 
Spelt 
Farro 

2. Use different beer/alcohol 

Given the origins, Irish stew is all about Guinness, but that shouldn’t prevent you from trying out other beer and alcohol combinations in its place. Try cooking with a local dark beer like Village Brewery’s Blacksmith. Milk stout, in particular, is another option that lends sweetness from the addition of lactose. You can also use a full-bodied red wine in place of, or in addition to, beer. Continuing along with the Irish theme, a healthy shot of whiskey wouldn’t hurt either (just make sure you save some to sip on while you’re cooking).

3. Add dairy 

If Irish stew wasn’t rich enough, it never hurts to add some additional fat to finish off a dish. Pour in heavy cream or add a dollop of sour cream or mascarpone cheese towards the end of the cooking process, to bump up the decadence. Or you can opt for alternative dairy like goat curd or yogurt for that added tang, also helping to cut the richness rather than adding to it.

4. Use it as a filling 

You can always make a big batch of stew and repurpose the leftovers. Prepping ahead of time means that you have no fuss meals ready to go throughout the week – plus, stew is one of those dishes that only gets better with time as all of the flavours meld together. Try using it as a filling for: 

Stuffed pastas (ravioli, cannelloni, lasagna, etc.)
Savoury crepes  
Wontons (either steamed or deep-fried) 
Quesadilla (with plenty of aged cheddar cheese!) 
Empanadas or other meat pies 
Cabbage rolls 

(It’s also good to note that larger batches of stew can always be frozen, so you can have dinner on the table at a moment’s notice)

5. Add dumplings 

Irish stew is typically loaded with potatoes, but that’s not the only starch you need to stick with! Dumplings are the perfect stick-to-your-ribs option for a hearty meal on a chilly winter day. Made out of flour, eggs, milk, salt, baking powder, and the flavourings of your choice, the ingredients simply have to be mixed together to form a sticky dough before dolloping by the spoonful into the stew. Once cooked, they will plump up and absorb all of the rich, meaty sauce.

6. Make it into a sauce 

Who doesn’t like a good spaghetti Bolognese? Leaving out the potatoes, so you aren’t serving starch on top of starch, there’s no reason why you can’t make an Irish version by serving leftover stew atop a more substantial pasta like pappardelle or tagliatelle. You could even toss the stew with the bite-sized pasta of your choice, sprinkle it with shredded cheese, and bake to form an Irish stew casserole of sorts. Or if you want to take comfort food to the extreme, use the stew as a poutine sauce, smothering it over crispy fries and squeaky cheese curds. Make it a multicultural Irish stew, right?

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