Celebrate the return of warmth with this classic dish
Spring means flower buds, baby bunnies – and fresh, local veggies.
Spring Lamb Stew – called Navarin Printanier in France, where it’s very popular – is a century-old dish that’s perfect for the season. After a long winter, who doesn’t want to celebrate with the freshest produce from local markets?
Spring fever never tasted so good.
Recipe: Spring Lamb Stew
We like to make this dish with lamb shoulder, which stands up to long braising (see Notes). Red wine makes a perfect braising liquid, though you could substitute stock (chicken or lamb) or even water. (But how can you beat the flavor of red meat braised in red wine?)
For vegetables, we like to use whatever is fresh and bright. Snow peas, string beans, carrots, and peas are some of our favorites. Frozen veggies would work too (in fact, frozen peas often are better quality than fresh).
We like to serve this dish over mashed potatoes or Polenta. But rice or noodles would also be nice.
Prep time for this dish is about 30 minutes. Cooking time adds another 90 minutes or so, much of it unattended. We prefer to make most of this dish a day ahead, then finish it right before serving. Our recipe reflects that procedure (but see Notes if you want to do everything on the same day).
This recipe yields 6 to 8 generous servings.
Leftovers keep for a few days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- ~3 pounds lamb shoulder (or lamb shoulder chops or stew meat; see Notes)
- salt to taste (see Notes)
- pepper to taste
- olive or vegetable oil as needed for browning the meat (1 to 2 tablespoons)
- 1 onion (for cooking with the lamb)
- 3 carrots (for cooking with the lamb)
- 3 cloves garlic (for cooking with the lamb)
- 1 bottle red wine for braising (see Notes)
- 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
- a large sprig of fresh rosemary
- ~8 additional carrots (to taste)
- ~½ pound green beans
- 2 to 3 handfuls of snow peas
- 1 to 1½ cups frozen green peas (or fresh if you can find them)
- creamy polenta or mashed potatoes (for serving)
- Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Cut the lamb into chunks of about 2 inches (we always include the bone, but you could go boneless if you prefer). Pat the lamb pieces dry (they won’t brown well if damp). Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium stovetop heat (use one that holds at least 4 quarts). When it’s hot, add a tablespoon of oil. When the oil is heated, add as many pieces of meat as will comfortably fit in the pan without crowding (you’ll probably have to brown the meat in batches). Cook the pieces on each side until browned (this process will take several minutes). When the lamb pieces are fully browned, remove them to drain on a plate lined with a paper towel. Continue browning the rest of the meat (adding more oil to the pan if necessary).
- Meanwhile, peel an onion and cut it into thick slices. Set aside. Wash and trim about 3 carrots, peeling them if you wish. Set aside. Peel the garlic. Set aside.
- When the meat has finished browning (and has been removed from the cooking pan to drain), add more oil to the Dutch oven if necessary, then add the chopped onion and carrots, along with the garlic. Sauté for about 5 minutes. Add about 1 cup of red wine to the Dutch oven, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom. Add the browned meat back to the pan. Add the rest of the red wine. Add the diced tomatoes and the rosemary. Bring the mixture to a simmer on the stovetop. Then place a sheet of aluminum foil over the contents of the Dutch oven, crimping the foil down along the sides of the pan so the surface of the foil is just above the braising liquid. Cover the Dutch oven, place it in the oven, and set a timer for 1 hour.
- At the hour mark, check the lamb to see how tender it is. It will probably still be a bit tough, so cook until done – usually another half hour or so. When the meat is tender (or almost so – you can cook it a bit more the next day), remove the meat pieces with kitchen tongs and place them on a plate. Drain the braising liquid (including the vegetables) from the Dutch oven into a strainer set over a bowl. Using a spoon, press the liquid out of the vegetables, then discard the vegetables. Let the braising liquid cool, then pour it into an airtight container that’s large enough to hold both the liquid and the meat. Add the meat pieces back to the liquid and refrigerate overnight.
- On the day you plan to serve: Prepare the serving veggies. Trim the additional 8 carrots (or however many you want to use), peel them, and cut them into chunks. Wash the green beans and trim them. Wash the snow peas and de-string them. Measure out the green peas.
- About half an hour before you plan to serve, remove the container holding the lamb and braising liquid from the refrigerator. Remove any fat that may have congealed on the surface of the container, then add the lamb and braising liquid to a Dutch oven. Add the chopped carrots, then heat on the stovetop. Add the green beans to the cooking pot 15 minutes before serving time. Add the snow peas and green peas 5 minutes before serving time. Stir all the ingredients to combine. Taste the dish and add seasoning if necessary.
- Place a dollop of mashed potatoes or polenta on each serving plate, then ladle on the lamb stew. Serve and enjoy.
- If the sauce is thin, you can thicken it before serving by adding cornstarch mixed with water. We generally use 1 tablespoon cornstarch to 2 tablespoons water (or wine). Remove the stew from the heat, then stir in the cornstarch mixture. Continue adding cornstarch mixture until you reach the consistency you prefer.
- It can be difficult to find lamb shoulder, but lamb shoulder chops are usually available. We ask our butcher to cut them into stew-sized chunks (they can be difficult to cut at home because of the bone).
- You can use leg of lamb in this dish, but it tends to dry out when braised. So it’s not the ideal cut.
- When we make this dish, we use whatever vegetables look good. If you don’t like some of our choices, simply substitute whatever you prefer.
- We sometimes add glazed pearl onions to this dish.
- You can make this dish on the stovetop if you prefer, although the oven provides more even heat. If you go this route, adjust the stovetop heat so that the liquid is just barely simmering.
- If you want to make this dish in one day: Prep the serving vegetables (Step 5) while the meat is cooking (Step 4). When the meat is tender, strain the meat and cooking veggies, capturing the sauce in a bowl. Pick out the cooking veggies (their flavor is spent). Return the meat and sauce to the Dutch oven, then proceed with the recipe (Step 6).
- We like to use a medium-bodied red wine when we make this dish. Use something that is not too expensive (around $10 per bottle or so), but that would still taste good if you drank a glass of it. If in doubt, ask your friendly local wine merchant for suggestions.
- We use kosher salt in cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If using table salt, start with about half the amount we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
Hope Springs Eternal
“Veggie-tation!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “This dish has put a spring in my step.”
“Yup, I saw you spring to life when I suggested we make it,” I said.
“Perfect for the end of March,” said Mrs K R. “Which comes in like a lion. And goes out like, well, a lamb.”
“Speaking of lamb, you might say this dish is shear perfection,” I said.
“That’s a pretty wooly joke,” said Mrs K R. “I may need to lambaste you.”
Think I’ll spring back.
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