My Mum's Incredible Lamb Casserole

This recipe is scrumptious – my mum recreated it after eating something similar in a funky little pub, and I think her version is much better than the original! But then, I would say that wouldn’t I, so you’ll just have to try it for yourself… it’s a rich, gooey stew with tender, melting chunks of lamb and sweet apricot slices – perfect with a generous helping of mash.

Two pieces of lamb neck fillet
A couple of tablespoons of flour
Salt & black pepper
Olive oil
An onion
4 rashers of streaky bacon
A splash of red wine
Gravy powder, such as Bisto
A handful of dried apricots
A dollop of apricot jam
150g button mushrooms
A bay leaf
To serve: potatoes, butter & milk for making mash, and green beans

Serves 4, or 2 if you’re hungry!

First of all, chop your lamb into bite-sized chunks. Lamb neck fillet is great for stuff like this, and curries as well – it’s a little bit fatty, but this makes it really flavoursome when it’s slow-cooked, and it’s one of the cheaper cuts too! Mix the flour with a good sprinkle of salt and pepper and toss the lamb pieces in it until they’re well coated. Pop them into a deep casserole-type pan, with a bit of olive oil, and while they’re browning, dice the onion finely and slice up the bacon, and stir that in too. Leave them to fry until the bacon is sizzling & slightly golden, then pour in a generous slug of red wine – it’ll hiss and steam, so keep stirring and let the alcohol burn off to leave a lovely rich flavour.

Next you need to make your Bisto – it’s a bit of an old-fashioned thing in some ways, so you might not be used to using it, but it’s great for casseroles and stews because it’s much thicker than beef stock. The most important thing is to make sure that, unlike stock, you make it with cold water – if you put boiling water straight onto gravy powder it turns into a horrible jelly-like substance! Make a couple of pints (about two or three tablespoons of powder per pint) and then pour in enough to cover all the ingredients. Next, chop your apricots and mushrooms into generous chunks and stir them into the liquid, before adding a good big dollop of apricot jam (it might sound a bit mad to put jam into a stew, but it won’t make it taste really sweet, it’ll just add a lovely rich depth to the flavour – you could try it with other flavours too, like redcurrant or plum, just leave out the apricots). Finally, add a good sprinkle of rosemary and thyme, a bay leaf, and a bit more salt and pepper. Adjust the temperature to bring the whole casserole to a gentle simmer and leave for at least an hour, or two if you possibly can. The longer you leave it, the more tender and gooey it will become.

I’d recommend that you serve this with some buttery mashed potato (click here for tips on making excellent mash) and some steamed green beans. Steaming is a great way to keep greens fresh and tasty (if you boil them, it’s much easier to get it wrong and leach all the flavour out of them). There’s no need to splash out on a proper steamer though – if you’ve got a metal colander or sieve, simply fill a small pan with a couple of inches of boiling water, then pop the beans in the sieve and place it on top, with the pan lid on top of it all. Keep the water boiling and leave for a couple of minutes, tops.

This dish does take a bit of time to prepare but I promise you it’s utterly exquisite – give it a go on a rainy afternoon when you feel like pottering in the kitchen, and it’ll warm you right up when it’s ready to serve.