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I made lamb stew with white beans the other day for dinner. Deconstructed.

Normally, I make stew in one pot — a nice long simmer in the dutch oven to fill the house with good smells and keep the kitchen toasty warm. But I had a screwy schedule earlier this week and wound up doing it in bits and pieces.

On my way out the door to preschool, I took five minutes to sear the lamb shank and then threw it into the slow cooker with blocks of chicken stock still frozen into yogurt-container cylinders. I add a bay leaf, set the whole thing on HIGH and dashed out the door.

As we were walking up the back stairs after preschool, May said, “Mommy! It smells good in here!” And indeed it did. I think that’s one of the main benefits of a slow cooker. You get to smell the food as you come home on a frosty day.

The lamb was fall-apart tender… but swimming in a vat of chicken stock. The stock was enriched with lamb fat, but it was still just stock.

plate of white beansI threw some beans into a pot with lots of salt and brought them to a boil, then lidded the whole thing and set my timer for 1 hour while I contemplated some body for the stew.

I diced a mire poix (2 parts onion, 1 part celery, 1 part carrot — though I usually double the carrots) and sauted it in some of the lamb fat I skimmed off the broth. When the vegetables got aromatic and translucent, I added a tablespoon of tomato paste, a palmful of flour, and some garlic and cooked that until it smelled right — not very long at all, maybe a minute.

Gently lifting the meat out of the slow cooker — it was literally shredding under any touch — I poured off the enriched stock and gradually whisked it into the pan with my vegetables. The roux from the fat and flour made it luscious and thick. I added some thyme, pepper, and chopped parsley, and turned the heat off.

By this time, the timer had gone off and I dumped my beans out, rinsed the hell out of them, and put them back in the pot with fresh cold water, a bay leaf, and some parsley stems. (One of my best tricks, learned on some cooking show back when I was in college: always freeze your parsley stems. They add so much to stocks and stews.)

At that point, Life intruded and I wandered out of the kitchen.

Dinner on the hoof

Lunch on the hoof. By law_keven, from Flickr

Two hours later, my beans were done and my husband was walking in the door. I shredded the now-cool meat into tiny filaments with my fingers while the sauce reheated and had Christopher set the table. Then I dished out beans from one pot, a spoonful of sauce/gravy from another, and sprinkled some lamb (from another pot) over the top. The heat from the beans and the sauce reheated the lamb nicely.

There’s no real moral to this story. Part of me feels like I should have been a good Kitchen Witch and remembered to soak the beans over night and get up early enough to dice and saute the aromatics. Then I could ahve thrown the whole lot into the slow cooker and been done with it. That certainly would have dirtied fewer dishes.

But part of me says that being able to improvise around a real schedule is a much more useful skill.

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