Irish stew is the common denominator of all the meat and potato daubes and, by virtue of its purity, it may be the best. The French have long since adopted it, and it is, apparently, closer to theirs than to the Irish heart, possibly because of its affinity to cool, young Beaujolais. A typically French refinement consists of using two different potato varieties in alternating layers, one a firm, waxy-fleshed type that will not cook apart and the other a soup variety that melts into a purée, forming the body of the sauce.
Among the closely related French provincial preparations are the Ardèchoise bombine (lamb stew prepared according to the recipe-type, but without flour, the sauce strained off, meat and potatoes arranged in the pot in alternate layers, the sauce poured over, baked for an hour in a gentle oven), the Alsatian baeckaoffa (alternate layers of mutton, pork, beef, potatoes, and onions, seasoned with garlic and herbs and moistened with local white wine—the word means “baker’s oven” and that is where it is traditionally cooked for some 3 hours), and a number of variations involving the conjunction of other vegetables—carrots, turnips, coarsely shredded, parboiled cabbage . . .
Arrange layers of meat and vegetables in an oven casserole, beginning with one of potatoes, then one of onions, seasoning the layers as you go with a sprinkling of salt and herbs, and finishing with a thick layer of potatoes. Press the surface firmly, pour over water to cover, and cook, covered, in a 325° to 350° oven for from 2½ to 2¾ hours. Check after an hour or so and reduce the oven’s heat if the contents are bubbling too rapidly.
Copyright © 1974 by Richard Olney. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.