Lamb and Barley Stew

A dish which like to be made a day before eating.

Oh, why hello there!  I know it’s been a little while since I’ve updated, but last weekend I was dealing with a post-surgery puppy.  I hope you’ll understand.

A few quick links before we get into it:

Chef Martin Vine of San Antonio tweeted this awesome link to me.  If you hit the next button at the top right, you’ll get a look at an great series of photos taken at a class given by Fergus Henderson.  Thanks to Chef Ben Ford for the images!

Over at the Belm Blog, David had his way with a hog’s head and really did it justice.

I’m a fan of offal on Facebook (crazy, I know) and recently a link to a news story titled “Portland pig cook-off followed by brawl over the provenance of pork” was posted.  The event was the famed Cochon 555, and the fight took place over the lack of locally sourced pork.  I can appreciate the passion, but not the altercation.

Hank Shaw recently held a class on butchering lamb that my friend Luna Raven attended.  It’s a great read, I wish I had been able to make it too.

Okay, on to the post!


Many recipes should start off like this: with five and a half pounds of red meat on the bone.  That right there is lamb shoulder, cut into cubes.  I don’t know if you’ve bought that much lamb recently, but man, it’s not cheap. So if you plan on making this dish, gird your pocketbook.  Also, Mr. Henderson asks for you to use a pan to hold it all.  I think he must have meant for one to use a pot because my largest pan could barely contain the lamb meat, and with even more ingredients need to join the party, I can’t imagine how big of a pan you would actually need.


Joining the meat are a few bay leaves, an herb bundle, a scant amount of peppercorns and a pinch of salt. Water was added until everything was covered.  I kicked the heat up and brought the pot to boil, and then I moved over to start working on the vegetables Mr. Henderson asks for


One of the reasons I was excited to make this recipe was that I’d get a chance to finally work with and eat kohlrabi.  Curious about their background, I did a little research and learned that they are cultivars of the cabbage, and so their flavor is very similar to, well, cabbage.


The kohlrabi, some leeks, a few carrots, and a bunch of shallots were all cleaned, peeled, and cut into appropriate sizes for the stew.


The pot was brought down to a gentle simmer, and then I skimmed, and skimmed, and skimmed.  And then I skimmed a little more.  Let it be known that five and a half pounds of boiled lamb meat gives off a lot of scum.  All of the prepped veggies were added to the pot, along with one more thing:


The barley! Mr. Henderson warns us that using too much barley in this recipe would be a bad idea, as it has a “bad habit of taking over.” I added a big handful to the pot, and then left it mostly alone for an hour.


When the kitchen timer started going off, I knew that the stew was ready to be taken off the heat. I decanted the still hot stew into a big plastic container, and let it cool down to room temperature before putting it into the fridge. There’s no good sense in heating your fridge up, right?


Then next day, I was greeted with this. All of the fat had collected at the top of the container and solidified. The recipe instructed me to remove all of this tasty white gold…


… so I did. I saved the lamb fat and stuck it back in the freezer. Maybe I can strain it for use somewhere else down the line.


The stew was then returned to the stove to reheat. When it was properly simmering again, I added salt and pepper and removed the herb bundle. The dish was complete.

At the very end of the recipe, Mr. Henderson mentions that some people might, “be tempted to add more oomph to this dish,” but that he’s, “all for its soothing, gentle qualities.” And I totally agree with him. You might assume that the richness of the lamb chunks might over power the rest of the ingredients, but that’s just not the case. There is a wonderful harmony that is struck somehow amongst the chaos that is a stew. The kohlrabi were like hearty bites of thick boiled cabbage, the barley added grassy notes, and the broth was delicate and light. It’s a subtle, comforting stew that would easily bring warm smiles on a cold winter night.

One down, fifty five to go.

9 thoughts on “Lamb and Barley Stew

  1. I’m not a huge fan of lamb, but I love kohlrabi. My buddy Don, with Gundermann’s produce at the Barton Creek Farmers market, always saves me some when they have it. I like kohlrabi sliced and boiled, and then served with a white cream sauce. However, I bet it’s a fabulous addition to your lamb stew.

  2. Thanks for sharing this with us, Ryan. It looks like an incredibly hearty, healthy, belly-warming dish. I love one-pot dishes, especially because I often find us in “heat and eat” situations during the week after a long day of work.

    My eyes lit up when I saw the kohlrabi, because one of my favorite farmers at our Farmers Market grows these and no one knows what it is. People ask, and she cuts a piece for them to taste (it’s great raw, by the way) but they don’t sell well because people don’t know what to do with it. So we end up buying a pound of them from her because I don’t want her to stop growing them. They’re a great tasting alternative vegetable, and the season is relatively short for them out here.

    The article about the fight at the Portland Pig Cook-off is unfortunate. Why people still find it necessary to come to physical altercations over their differences is beyond me. It’s one thing when you’re 8 years old, but we’re adults now and you go to jail for that.

    Hope your puppy is recovering! 🙂

  3. Thanks for the shout-out, and I too hope your dog is doing better. As someone very close to my pets, I understand how tough that can be.

    I grew up with lamb and barley stew very much like this, only with more barley. I now either make the dish in two steps – barley on one pot, stew in another – or make just enough for a few servings. The barley sweels dramatically in the pot, and does indeed, as Fergus says, take over.

    My suggestion if you make a pile of this stew is to ladle out some of the broth to cook the barley separate, then put a portion of cooked barley at the bottom of each bowl before serving – just like the Vietnamese serve pho with their rice noodles.

  4. Yay Portland! (Well, kind of… the pig cook-off sounds great, but not the fighting so much.)(BTW, that’s where I grew up.)

    Kohlrabi is fun, isn’t it? I love how it looks like it’s from outer space, especially the purple kind, which I get in my CSA from time to time.

    I hope your puppy is feeling better!

  5. Can’t wait to try this recipe, thanks for posting it.

    As for the fight, any adult who sports a mohawk is an idiot (professional athletes included.)

  6. This dish is so similar to a Lebanese one I grew up eating called Herissa. Instead of the barley we use peeled wheat kernels but the process is more or less the same. In the flavor profile Herissa includes a good dose of cinnamon and allspice.

  7. Being Australian I’m no stranger to Lamb. However I find it tough going to justify buying lamb here, I bought a lamb shoulder here to do a roast (nothing in this world is better than slow roasted lamb shoulder smothered in rosemary and garlic ) and didn’t discover until the checkout that I was paying $60 for it! I would have gotten 3 shoulders back home for that sort of money.

    Anyways I’ve since found that Fiesta Market has some well priced lamb that is excellent for stewing, It’s belly and ribs and other stuff in a vacuum pack for a few dollars a pound. Much better than the $8+ / pound for cheap cuts at Wholefoods/CM.

  8. Good morning,

    I’m an intern with Superior Farms and I noticed your great article on your preparation of lamb! We are kicking off the summer with our summer grilling promotion at We’re giving away a Mediterranean cruise for two and promoting simple Mediterranean seasonings for lamb. We are hoping to get more lamb lovers this summer by highlighting delicious recipes and cooking tips. If you have any posts coming up, we would love to hear about them! Also, look for us on Facebook.

    Thank you for your time!


    Lacie Hoffman

  9. Pingback: This Week’s Harvest, 5/4 « Seasonal Market Menus

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