There’s almost like an unwritten rule with food writers that the minute the temperature so much as drops half a point, we all sprint to our Word processors to write about soups and stews and how ‘THIS recipe warms the soul‘ and ‘insert cute fireside bowl-clutching food blogger’ image here.
This recipe could be that, if it wasn’t so much more at the same time.
The reason I say that is because Cawl has been present in my life through every season and temperature since I could chew food. And even before that, if I’m honest. I would love to say that this Cawl reminds me of special moments in my childhood or a particular time of my life but it doesn’t.
Cawl just, quite literally, reminds me of my life.
My Mam has been making Cawl (this recipe to be exact) for as long as I can remember. It was brought out on weekdays and weekends for no special occasion, it was just there. It was a unit of home. It felt like nourishment and normality at the same time; a restorative cycle in the household that grounded you as much as it excited you.
To this day, this is still the food that I ask my Mam to make me whenever I come home from an extended holiday to remind me that I’ve touched base.
So let’s talk semantics.
A Cawl (pronounced not as you would pronounce cowl, but as cow-uhl… so think a cow that goes moo, but with an L at the end) and it’s is basically a soup or a stew. Technically, the word Cawl translates into soup, and this kind of is a chunky soup, I guess… but it’s more of a stew than a soup... and I know so many people who have varying opinions on what is a soup and what is a stew and where Cawl fits into this mix.
So let’s just say for the sake of arguments, this is neither a soup nor a stew. It’s a Cawl.
And that’s okay.
I have seen a thousand variations on a Cawl and it’s one of those things where, unlike the variations I see on Welsh Cake, it doesn’t frustrate me. I think everybody who grew up in the Welsh Valleys had their parents making a version of a Cawl for them, and therefore the authenticity of the recipe lies solely in the kitchen that bred you.
This is my Mam’s, and therefore what I deem as authentic.
I’ve seen versions made with beef, ones that swap the leek for onion, ones finished with parsley, ones that use a rich beef – and all of this, I’m sure is fantastic. This is, essentially, a pot of simmered meat and vegetables so the journey you take to get there is going to be a personal one.
Me personally, I stick to what I was taught. The beauty of the Cawl is the intense, rich stock that can only be achieved through the simmering of the vegetables and the lamb fat together – that’s why marbled pieces of lamb shoulder are my preferred meat and I like the mix of swede, parsnip, carrot and leek. I love the alchemy of stock that this combination gives you, thickened by the starchy potatoes.
And even though, like I said, the variations of Cawl are rich from house to house, I do think the addition of dumplings is something I rarely encounter.
My Mam would roll her own little dough dumplings and add them to the pot, giving you thick, fudgy morsels to stab your spoon into as you eat and I must say, I never really came across another family’s Cawl that also featured dumplings, so I do think this was an addition of my Mam’s and I believe she got it from my Nan – and only Lord knows when she decided to do it.
We would always be able to tell my Mam’s stress levels based on whether or not the Cawl had dumplings. If it had dumplings, she had time and energy. If there were no dumplings, just eat the Cawl and don’t ask any questions.
Serves 6 – 8
For the Cawl
1 tablespoon olive oil
800g lamb shoulder – cut into chunks
2 leeks – washed, halved and sliced into half moons
2 carrots – peeled and sliced
2 parsnips – peeled and sliced
1 swede – peeled and chopped
200g potatoes (something floury like Maris Piper) – peeled and chopped into big chunks
Roughly 2 litres lamb stock (from a stock cube is fine, enough to cover the vegetables and meat)
Bread and butter – to serve
For the dumplings
100g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Water to mix (you’ll know how much you need as you go)
- Warm the olive oil in a large, heavy-based pot on a medium heat and once warm, add the lamb and cook for roughly 10 minutes until the lamb just starts to render it’s fat down into the pot.
- Carefully remove the lamb to a bowl or something and cover for later, just so that you’re left with the fatty lamb juices in the pan.
- Add the leek, carrots, parsnips and swede to the pan of lamb juices, salt them gently and cook for roughly 10 – 15 minutes until they start to soften ever so slightly.
- Add the lamb back to the pot along with the potatoes, salt gently again, and cook for a further 10 minutes
- Pour the stock over the contents of the pan, making sure that everything is covered with the water. Salt the water, again gently, turn the heat up to high and bring the pan to a boil. Once boiling, drop the heat down to a light simmer and leave to simmer for 2 hours.
- During this time you could skim any fat that rises to the top of the pan. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I just stir it in and don’t tell anyone.
- While the Cawl simmers, make your dumplings. Put the flour, suet and salt in a bowl and add in a half a cup of water and bring the mixture together, using your hands. You want it firm but soft enough to be able to pull little golf balls of dough from the bowl with your fingers. Add more water by the tablespoon as you go until you’re able to do this.
- Once you can comfortably pull little golf balls from the dough, using your palms, roll them into little balls and pop them on a plate while you go until all of the dough is used up. You should have about 8 dumplings in total.
- When you are 20 minutes away from the end of the Cawl’s cooking time, carefully drop the dumplings into the pot and then pop on a lid.
- Once both Cawl and dumplings have had their final 20 minutes, remove the lid, serve the Cawl in deep bowls and of course, as mentioned, with plenty of fresh cut bread and thickly slathered butter.