GCC: Menu 24 - Irish Stew and Ficelles

This weeks Gutsy Cook Menu is a tribute to the upcoming Saint Patrick celebration. Chosen by Shandy of Pastry Heaven, it was the perfect Saturday night dinner.  The Florida weather even cooperated, since we were enjoying a nice sunny, COLD day.  Perfect for a stew, with a crusty homemade bread.  There was a third option of dessert – French Apple Tart, which I skipped.

I’m not a huge meat eater, in fact I really try not to eat meat at all, but lamb is just too good to pass up and this weeks stew called for lamb as the main protein ingredient. While it is a bit pricy, the fact that this was feeding only 3 of us, and one of those was a child, I got away with spending about $14 bucks for 1 pound.  And it was just the right amount and we still have some leftover for Tom to take to work on Monday.

As like any savory dish I try out of a cookbook, I tend to use it as a springboard for me to put my own twist on it.  And this one was no exception.  The instructions tells you to pretty much layer all of the ingredients in a heavy casserole, season and bake for one and half hours.


I just could not bring myself to follow this.  I wanted to make sure the lamb as well as the onions and carrots have as much flavor as they could.  So I pre- sautéed the onions with a bit of oil and butter until soft, then did the same the carrots in a saucepan, seasoning each with a bit of salt and pepper. Once cooked I removed them from the pan and use it to cook the lamb, which has been season with salt and pepper until it formed a nice even crust all around.  Then I layered everything in my casserole, starting with the sliced potatoes then a layer of onions, then followed by the carrots, then the lamb and ending with another layer of potatoes on top.

Finally covered the whole thing with lamb stock and into the oven it went to.

Adapted from The illustrated Kitchen Bible

  • 3 large baking potatoes, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 2 pounds (900g) boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1½ in (3.5cm) pieces and season with salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 3 large onions, sliced
  • 3 carrots, thickly sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper – to taste
  • Large sprig of thyme and about 2 tablespoon of chopped thyme for carrots
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2½ cups lamb stock or beef stock
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C).
  2. In a saucepan over medium high heat, pour the oil and once hot, add the onions and cook until nice and soft – season with salt and pepper.  Once done, remove and reheat the pan again and add the butter.  Once it is bubbling add the carrots and once more season with salt and pepper, toss to coat everything with the butter and then add the chopped thyme, toss once more and then remove from the pan. 
  3. In the same saucepan, add the lamb.  Make sure not to crowd the pan, you want to sear the meat and not boil it.  If you have to do this step in two parts, do it.  Once the lamb is seared in all side, remove from the heat and get ready to layer your stew.
  4. Beginning and ending with potatoes, layer the onions, carrots, lamb, a large, heavy casserole, seasoning each layer with salt and pepper. Tuck in the thyme sprig and bay leaf. Add the stock and cover.
  5. Place in the hot oven and bake for 1 hour. Uncover and bake 30–40 minutes more, until the potatoes are browned and the meat is very tender. Serve hot and with a piece of crusty bread.

And talking about crusty bread brings us to our next choice in the menu.  Ficelles, whose name means, “string” is basically a small baguette and like it’s sister French bread filled with many air pockets and boast a prime ration of crust-to-crumb – which I don’t know about you, but for me that is what the perfect piece of bread should always have.  Especially if you are going to use it to dip into some stew juices.

These did not disappoint.  We ate them right out of the oven, hot, crusty and perfect.  They also worked well the next morning.  I stored them in a plastic bag in our breadbox and we had some toasted for break smoother with butter and jam.

They are easy to make and the best part only has a 30 minute rise time frame, which makes them perfect for when you are craving some fresh homemade bread.

makes 4 loaves

  • 3½ cups bread flour
  • one ¼ oz (7g) envelope instant (fast-acting) yeast
  • 3 teaspoon salt - divided
  • 1½ cups tepid water
  • 2/3 cup boiling water 
  1. Mix the flour, yeast, and 1½ teaspoon of the salt in a large bowl. Add the tepid water and stir to make a soft dough. Knead on a lightly floured work surface for 8–10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.  Note: mine was very sticky at first and I had to add a bit of flour during the kneading process in order to reach the “smooth and elastic” stage.
  2. Divide the dough into four equal portions. Roll each into a 12-inche rope. Place 2 ficelles on each of 2 large baking trays. Cover the loaves with oiled plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place for 30 minutes, until doubled in size.  (All four of my ficelles fit in a 17x12 baking sheet pan).
  3. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Dissolve the remaining 1½ teaspoon salt in the boiling water. Brush the salted water over the loaves (you may not need to use all of it). Use a sharp knife to make 4 diagonal slashes in the top of each loaf. Bake for 15–20 minutes, until light gold. After 10 minutes, switch the positions of the baking sheets from top to bottom to ensure even baking if you are using two baking pans.
  4. Transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm, with lots of butter.

Both choices were a huge hit for dinner, and everyone like it.  The stew was rich and the lamb was tender and flavorful (I totally believe that the pre-searing of it gave it it’s own flavor, so don’t skip this step) and the toasty potatoes on top were the right crunch for the dish.  The stew juices were a hit with the hot bread.

As always, check out the other Gutsy Cooks sites for their take on this weeks menu options.