Rich, aromatic, pull-apart lamb in a dark, malty gravy bubbling under tangy, pillowy bulbs of soft cobbler pastry.
Any story that starts this way is one I am happy to finish.
The good thing is, it’s the kind of story that really benefits from being put down halfway through, allowed to temptingly play in your mind until the next day, when you’re asked to finish it and like all amazing stories, is definitely worth the wait.
A slight riff on a Nigella Lawson recipe, this stew is the perfect thing to make when you know you know you will want to bring something fantastic to table but don’t necessarily want to be doing too much work when the time comes.
The general jist is, you make the stew in advance, which is a hob-to-oven affair (it’s all very hands off save for some light chopping and stirring, as any stew would demand) and then you let that sit in the fridge until you’re ready for it. In this time, you can roll out your cobbler dough, cut it into shapes, and then stash these in the fridge too. Then when you’re ready, you just heat up the stew, pop the cobbler on top, and then put it in the oven.
There are no fewer words I can use to describe that process, but I have to reiterate, it’s very, very laidback work.
You can, as I have done many times, serve the stew without the cobbler top, as it is wonderful in it’s unadorned glory, in which case I would always suggest thick, creamy, soft towers of mash alongside (I suggest the mash recipe I feature in my book of Christmas recipes, Get Stuffed, which you can download for free here.)
However, if do fancy going down the cobbler route, just know that despite being incredibly easy to make, my version is still a scenic route. You could add different cheese into the mix, play with different herbs, add in a different spice combo, or have them plain and interesting – it is completely up to you.
I would definitely recommend them though, and that is coming from somebody who usually avoids pastry at any cost.
There is a potential to make this is a meat-free affair.
I would suggest some thickly cut mushrooms in place of the lamb, and perhaps throw in an extra vegetable, say an aubergine cut into small chunks or maybe some carrots. You’d would also need to swap the stock to a vegetable based one, in which case I do recommend just stirring through a spoonful of Marmite to the finished stew, just to deepen its rib-sticking appeal.
And one more thing, please don’t be put off by the long to-do list below.
There’s quite a lot to breakdown in terms of actually writing this recipe so that I’ve given you all the information I think you need, but the actual act of doing this recipe is extremely simple and not very long work.
Serves 4 or 2 with leftovers
For the stew
1 tbs olive oil
1 onion (peeled and chopped roughly)
3 garlic cloves
1 tbs fresh rosemary (chopped finely)
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp mixed spice
500g stewing lamb (cut into chunks)
150ml lamb or beef stock
300ml dark ale
1 tsp red wine vinegar
2 parsnips (peeled and cut into big chunks)
1 courgette (cut into small dice sized cubes)
For the cobbler
60ml plain yogurt
1 tbs full-fat milk
90g plain flour + extra for rolling
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp fresh rosemary (finely chopped)
25g mature cheddar cheese
25g fridge-cold butter
- Preheat the oven to 170°C.
- On a medium heat and in a wide, deep pan that comes with a lid and is transferable from hob to oven, warm the olive oil.
- Once warm, add the onion with a pinch of salt, and cook for like 5 or 10 minutes or so, just until soft and translucent.
- Grate in the garlic with a fine grater, and stir in the rosemary, cumin, and a little black pepper. Stir everything together and cook for a further 5 minutes, just to warm the spices.
- Add the lamb to the pan with a little salt and stir into the spiced onions. Cook for 5 or 10 minutes just to coat the lamb in the spices, it won’t brown, nor does it need to, but don’t worry
- Now empty in the beef stock (or crumble in a beef stock cube and add the 150ml of water,) the dark ale, and the red wine vinegar.
- Drop in the parsnips and courgette and stir together so that everything is submerged and amalgamated. Turn up the heat and bring the pan to a bubble, drop to a simmer and then clamp on a lid. Carefully transfer the pan from the hob to the oven and leave to cook for 2 hours.
- After this time, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once cooled, taste for seasoning to see if you want a little more salt or pepper, and then allow to cool completely. This now needs to go in the fridge overnight; my pan didn’t fit in the fridge, so I emptied it into a large Tupperware box, sealed tightly, and then stashed away.
- While the stew rests, you can easily crack on with the cobbler topping. For this, to start with, in a small jug or bowl, combine the plain yogurt with the milk and stir, just to thin the yogurt slightly.
- In a big bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, bicarb, mustard powder, rosemary and a little salt and fork together to mix.
- Grate the cheese into this mix, followed by the cold butter. I use a box grater on the medium-hole side, but so long as there are short ribbons of cheese and butter falling into the bowl, you’re fine.
- Now using your fingers in quick fluttering motions against your palms, rub together the dry ingredients into the cheese and butter, lifting the ingredients up and dropping them back into the bowl as you go. Keep doing this until everything comes together similarly to a crumble topping, going until you cannot see any streaks of butter in the mixture, but rather a bowl of scruffy oats.
- Now empty in the yogurt/milk mix, and using a wooden spoon, stir the ingredients together to create a soft albeit slightly damp dough.
- Scatter some flour on a clean work surface and get a large plate or thin chopping board, something big enough to fit in the fridge without anything on top of it. Put a sheet of baking paper on the plate or board ready for your cobbler.
- Spoon the dough from the bowl and on to the flour. Using your hands, flip this over so now the floured underside side of the dough is facing upwards. With your hands, gently bring the ball of dough together in your hands, rolling it around the flour on the counter, just until you feel it tighten up, tight enough to be able to roll.
- With a rolling pin, roll the dough out to roughly 1cm thick and using a shotglass or a very small glass tumbler, cut little rounds out of the dough, and using a gentle hand, transfer to the lined plate or board. Ball up the scraps of remaining dough, roll out to 1cm thick again, and continue to cut out shapes. Repeat this process until you have used up all of your dough.
- Cover the cobbler cuts with some foil or cling film and put the plate or board into the fridge, alongside the resting stew, and go do everything else in your life, secure in the knowledge both are waiting for you when you are ready.
- The next day, or even up to 3 days later, get the stew out of the fridge to come to room temperature, and preheat the oven to 220°C. Due to the rich fattiness of the lamb, a lot of fat would have now floated to the surface – just skim this off the surface with a ladle or spoon… but not too much… there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of that lip-greasing fattiness from a lamb stew, right?
- Now, if the stew was in a Tupperware box like mine, empty it back into the vessel you cooked it in, and on a high heat, bring the stew to a big bubble. Once bubbling, drop this to a gentle simmer, and cook for 30 minutes to warm through.
- While it cooks, take the remaining egg for the cobbler and crack and beat it in a small bowl to make an egg wash. Take the cobbler topping out of the fridge and using a little brush (or your fingers, as I often barbarically do) wash the tops of the cobbler with the egg.
- After the stew’s 30 minutes, take the pan off the heat, and quickly but carefully place the cobbler topping on top of the stew’s surface.
- Carefully transfer the pan to the oven and cook for 15 – 20 minutes until the cobbler is golden and puffed up like proud scones, and the stew is bubbling underneath. Allow to rest out of the oven for 5 minutes or so, just to cool, and then serve.