Lamb and Barley Stew with Root Vegetables

I’m not sure why lamb isn’t eaten more the United States; I adore it.  But often people will just  blurt out, “I don’t like lamb.”  In some other parts of the world, lamb is precious, but more common than stateside–as is goat.  It doesn’t answer the question about why so many Americans “don’t like” lamb; I think they just haven’t had much of it and what they have had as been poorly prepared.  I wish they could have some stew…

I rarely had lamb growing up–and, if I did, it was a tiny lamb chop with some potatoes and peas prepared simply to showcase the sweet bite of meat.  Of course there was mint jelly.  This may have had something to do with living with in 25 miles of the Chicago Stockyards, or simply in the mid west where beef was (and is) king. Maybe it was southern-born parents cooking up north.  Maybe it was cash.

Out west, it’s different; Colorado produces some of the best lamb in the world.  And even though I live in Colorado, Colorado lamb is difficult to come by.  It is not in the grocery store.  I found it easily in Saint Paul, where Kowalski’s carried only Colorado lamb.  You paid the price for it, too.  I also found Colorado lamb in London in 2007 and ate it.  Hey, I wasn’t sure I’d ever see any again.   Right here in Colorado Springs, our stores sometimes have American lamb, but I don’t know where it’s from.  More often, we, like the rest of the the country (world?) have New Zealand lamb, which is nearly as tender, but is stronger in flavor.  A boneless leg of New Zealand lamb, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say, is what I used to make this stew right here in the land of the best lamb in the world.  I seem to remember Hawaiians telling me they couldn’t get Kona coffee.  I suppose it’s the same sad story.

Our front yard ornamental crab in all its glory.  The leaves are gone in the wind now.

This is a stew worthy of a fall dinner party (or a ski trip) and it’s all in one pot with the exception of some crispy green beans (below), which I recommend serving at the side of the bowl or plate.  Leave the pot on the stove with a stack of bowls on the counter next to it, if you like.  Ahead of time, put the wine and green beans (room temp) on the table. Everyone can help themselves and you can enjoy your dinner. The beauty of the dish is it’s all done ahead, the kitchen’s cleaned, and a perfect “Let’s eat” aroma fills the house as folks walk in.  What better?

lamb-barley stew with root vegetables                                                   serves 8

This is a hearty, full-bodied stew that goes well with a similarly full-bodied red wine; I like a  Syrah, though many would choose a Bordeaux or a Cabernet Sauvignon.  Some good friends served an epic Pahlmeyer Merlot with the pot I took to their house.  

A few crispy green beans (see below for my recipe) or a simple green salad on the side adds some crunch and something green. Crusty bread is useful and happy dunking in the sauce.
  • ·     1 boned leg of lamb, trimmed, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (3-4 pounds)

·       ½ cup all-purpose flour
·       1 teaspoon kosher salt
·       ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
·       1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
·       Olive oil
·       2 medium onions, chopped
    4 stalks celery, chopped
·       6 carrots, scrubbed and sliced into coins (don’t peel)
·       1 parsnip, scrubbed and sliced into coins
·       4 cloves garlic, minced
·       ½ cup parsley, chopped
·       1 bottle red wine (Côtes du Rhône* works well, but any red wine will be ok.)
·       4 cups chicken broth, low-sodium
·       1 cup water
·       A few drops of hot sauce or to taste
·       3/4 cup pearl barley, uncooked
·       2 sprigs fresh thyme and 1 sprig of rosemary tied together with string

1  1/2 cup green peas (if frozen, run under warm water to defrost)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Set a rack in the lower third of the oven.

1. In a large bowl, mix flour with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.  Add 1/3 of the lamb and toss until well-coated.  In the meantime, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy, large and oven-safe pot (6-8 quarts) over medium-high heat.  Shaking off excess flour mixture, add floured lamb pieces to pot and brown well; turn and brown the other side.  Remove browned meat to a plate and repeat twice with remaining lamb.  Drizzle in a bit more oil as needed.

2. Add onions, celery, carrots, parsnips, and garlic to the pot, adding a little oil if you need it.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cook about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown. Stir in parsley and browned lamb.  Pour in wine, broth, water, and the hot sauce. Bring to a boil and stir well to bring up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot.  Add barley and  place tied herbs on top of the stew.  Bring to boil once more.

3. Cover and place pot in the oven for 2 hours or until meat and vegetables are nearly tender. Remove from oven Taste and adjust seasonings. If stew is too thick, stir in a little more broth or water to loosen it up before serving.  Stir in peas and bake another half hour or so.  Remove from oven and serve in warm bowls or on warm plates. Garnish with a sprig of parsley or sprinkle some chopped parsley on each serving.  Pass the black pepper grinder at the table.
Cook’s Notes:  You can make this stew up to two days ahead, storing it in the refrigerator.  Reheat over low flame on the stovetop, stirring regularly, 20-30 minutes or until bubbling.  Add a little water if needed while reheating.
*Côtes du Rhône is French wine from the Rhône wine-growing area of France –generally in the southeast quadrant of the country, north and west of Provence. The red variety (it comes in red, white, and  rosé) is usually made from a blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mouvedre, and sometimes other red grapes.  I think it makes good stew wine — or everyday drinking wine– it’s dry, full and round, inexpensive, and can be a bit lower in alcohol than California reds.  So buy two bottles:  one for the pot and one for the table.


The inspiration for this stew came from Tyler Florence, who makes lamb shanks with barley in the oven, topped by halved Russet potatoes drizzled with lots of garlic-butter-parsley sauce.


If available, buy the plastic package of skinny green beans (haricots verts), which is about a pound  and microwave per package instructions, about  2-3 minutes at full power.  Otherwise, buy a pound of string beans.  Microwave 2-3 minutes, or until tender-crisp, with 1-2 tablespoons water  in a bowl, covered by a plate or wrapped with plastic wrap.  Drain well and toss with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, lots of salt and pepper, and the grated zest of one lemon. Add a good pinch of crushed red pepper if you like heat.   I’ll bet you can’t eat just one hot, warm, or cold.  4 servings.   I eat these with everything.  Almost.

Sing a new song,

4 thoughts on “Lamb and Barley Stew with Root Vegetables

  1. I think people who say they don't like lamb only tried it once and it wasn't prepared properly. Poorly cooked lamb tastes terrible. Like you, I never had it growing up, possibly for the same reasons. (My family raised beef cattle in Missouri.) My first experience with lamb was as a nanny in Washington DC. The lamb chops were terrible, so I thought I didn't like lamb. Then I went to an Irish pub in New York City and had a great Irish stew made with lamb. Then I had the same experience in London enjoying lamb stew with the owners of the B and B where I stayed. A few years ago, I discovered Indian cuisine, and always enjoy a lamb vindaloo. So for me, stewed lamb is the way to go, and this one looks delicious. I'll have to not tell The Picky Eater it has lamb so he'll try it first! 😉

  2. I love lamb and we're lucky here because there is a local supplier who has his lamb in most of the local stores and it's fairly reasonable….I'm definitely going to give this stew a try the first ski day when all the kids are up here!

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