Except for certain holiday, lamb seems to be the ugly step child of America’s diets.
And even when it is eaten a vast majority of recipes seem to want to cover up the natural flavor. Helpful recipe writers tell us that if you do X it will reduce lamb’s innate gaminess and makes it milder in flavor.
These people are trying to make lamb taste like beef. And if that is what you want, then why not eat beef in the first place?
Lamb’s unique flavor should be enjoyed for itself; eaten in foods that highlight its slight gaminess.
Exactly like AB’s lamb and barley stew.
I don’t get to enjoy lamb very often. Not only is it hard to find in American supermarkets, but my brother, a frequent eater at my table, does not like it.
This means that I only get to cook it when I KNOW he won’t be joining us for dinner for a few days.
It was just such an occasion that had me trudging through freezing cold winds (ok freezing cold for California) to my local Arabic market for the necessary ingredients. The lamb shoulder which AB suggests was hard frozen and looked far too fatty to use. They did however have wonderful, fresh looking lamb leg roasts. Well marbled they still had large enough hunks of lean meat to make them worthwhile.
Having secured my 2.5 pounds of lamb (leaving a little room for trimming) I went after the next ingredient: barley grits.
I don’t know where Alton shops…no…strike that, I know exactly where Alton shops, but even looking at my local equivalent of his Atlanta Whole Foods I could not find barley grits. Considering the short list of ingredients, the recipe was in trouble and it was too late to turn back.
Google defines barley grits as roasted and ground barley similar to bulgar wheat used for Mediterranean dishes like Tabuleh. Which was helpful to some extent but I did not have the facilities to slowly air dry and crush a pound of barley.
So I decided to improvise.
I slow roasted my barley until it was a rich nut brown. Not a hard process, slightly time consuming but as I only had to stir occasionally as I ran around the kitchen it wasn’t all that labor intensive. The roasting took about an hour all told but yielded an incomparable nutty fragrance and a gorgeous dark grain.
Wanting at least some of the original recipes look, I decided that I would pulse the barley in my food processor until it was a broken up a little.
My food processor did not agree. It whirred and hoomed and did its food processor thing but except for a few scratches on the surface of the grains and some fine barley dust, it did exactly nothing to the barley grains. They came out as whole as they went in.
Right. Time for the big… er…little guns. What the food processor won’t handle the coffee grinder certainly will.
About 10 pulses yielded exactly the texture I was looking for; coarsely chopped with a rough broken appearance and some fine sandy bits for a creamier texture.
They were perfect in the stew. I was unhappy with the oatmeal consistency of the stew on Good Eats, where as my version came out almost risotto like in texture. Creamy and toothsome.
It was exactly the perfect thing for a blustery cold day the smell breaking through event he worst of my cold stuffed nose.
And the flavor was uncompromisingly lamby. The lamb permeated the barley, infusing it with rich, meaty accents leaving no question as to what the star of the show was. It was an earthy, hearty stew, satisfying, comforting and filling.
The kind of stew that makes you want to curl up in a blanket and watch the rain outside.
Besides my brother, it enjoyed great popularity with the rest of my family. So much so that, though I made a HUGE pot, there weren’t any leftovers for dinner the next day.
I will definitely be making it again.
Lamb and Barley Stew
Adapted from Alton Brown
2 pounds lamb shoulder or leg, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
2 medium carrots, grated 
1 cup barley, roasted and ground (or barley grits) 
4 cups chicken broth
4 ounces dried shitake or porcini mushrooms, soaked and chopped coarsely 
1 cup mushroom water (optional)
8-10 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons oregano, fresh or dried
In a large bowl, sprinkle the lamb with salt, pepper and flour. Toss to coat.
In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, brown the lamb pieces on all sides, adding just enough olive oil to prevent the lamb from sticking. Do not crowd the pan. Brown a third of the lamb pieces at a time, remove to a bowl and continue with the rest.
Once all of the pieces are browned and reserved off to the side, toss the grated carrots into the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes or until the carrots begin to brown. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until they start to release their liquid. Add the meat and barley. Stir vigorously, to combine.
Once the lamb and barley are uniformly mixed, slowly pour in the chicken broth and the mushroom water. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pot to loosen any of the browned bits.
If you are using dried oregano, add all but ½ of a teaspoon now. Dried spices are best added early in the cooking process.
Tuck the whole garlic cloves in between the meat. Bring the liquid to a boil and cover, reducing the heat to medium-low; just enough to keep the pot at a bare simmer.
Simmer, stirring occasionally until the barley is cooked all the way through and the lamb is very tender, about an hour to an hour and a half.
About 15 minutes before the stew is ready add the rest of the dried oregano or all of the fresh, if you are using fresh. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper. The garlic should be very soft. Smash the garlic into a paste and combine with the rest of the stew.
Serve with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and a nice Greek Salad.
 AB says to cut the carrots into circles. I am not a fan of cooked carrots but I think they bring a sweetness to this stew so I didn’t want to go without. Shredding the carrots and then putting them through the food processor until they were pulp made them disintegrate into the stew leaving their flavor behind. I prefer it that way.
 I think that the roasted barley brought a lot of flavor to the stew over barley grits. To roast the barley, put the grains into a large frying pan over the lowest heat possible. Stir occasionally until the barley is a deep, rich brown. This takes about an hour but you only need to stir once every 10 minutes or so. Once it is roasted, allow it to cool completely. To get the broken effect, put a quarter cup into a coffee grinder and pulse 10 times. Repeat with the remaining grain.
 I think mushrooms enhance the earthiness of this dish greatly. I prefer to use dried mushroom because they create mushroom water which can be used to flavor the stew. To reconstitute dried mushrooms, pour 2 cups of boiling water over the dried mushrooms. Cover with something that will keep the mushrooms below the water surface and allow to stand for an hour. Drain the mushrooms and squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Reserve the liquid, this is mushroom water and it is a wonderful flavor enhancer.