Mum’s Lamb Casserole

When our kids were in their teens we had a dinner roster.  I still did most of the cooking, but once or twice a month each of the kids was responsible for the feeding the clan.  It didn’t have to be elaborate – just something easy they knew how to do.  I’m a great believer in this roster approach to dinner time. Apart from the fact that it’s nice for the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer to have the occasional night off, it means that when the kids leave home – and eventually they do – they won’t starve.

Working on the same principle, my Mum taught me to make this casserole when I was in my early teens.  The fact that I still make it is testimony to its success. With creamy mash or baked potatoes it’s still one of my favourite “comfort foods”.

We were given a Crock Pot as a wedding present and I used it for years. Every busy cook should have one.  Somehow in a house move it disappeared and I really missed it, so when I saw one in a garage sale I snapped it up.

Crock Pots are great for working mums because you can leave dinner to cook in your absence. Switch it on as you leave, then when you get back check how its going. It just needs an occasional stir and you can turn it up to High if it’s not cooking fast enough, or down to Low if it’s cooking too fast.

Browning the chops adds flavour to the dish, but if you’re really pressed for time skip this stage and you will still have a tasty dish.  It may seem strange to see a recipe which can take anything from 4 to 8 hours to cook.  But that’s the whole point of a slow cooker – you can adjust the temperature to suit your timetable.

1.5 kg lamb chops (cheap cuts like neck or forequarter chops) trimmed of all excess fat
1 x 425g tin tomatoes, chopped
1 cup water
2-3 parsnips, cut into chunks (optional)
2-3 carrots, sliced thickly
1 beef stock cube, crumbled (I use the Oxo brand my mother used)
1 large onion, chopped
3 Tbs dry sherry or red wine
1 Tbs tomato paste
2 bay leaves or a sprig of fresh rosemary
1 tsp sugar
S and P to taste
2-3 cups frozen peasBrown chops on both sides in a large frying pan with just a tiny drizzle of oil, almost none.   Place chops in slow cooker with remaining ingredients apart from frozen peas. Discard any fat in the frying pan, then pour the cup of water in and scrape it around to remove any brown bits and add to the casserole. Cover and cook on high for 4-6 hrs or on low for 6-8 hrs, until meat is very tender.  Stir every hour or two if you are around – if not don’t worry, it can look after itself for quite a while.  Add peas during the last 30-60 mins or so of cooking.  Once ready the casserole will stay that way for a while if you switch it to Low.  Serve with creamy mashed potatoes or potatoes baked in their jackets, with a dollop of sour cream and chives.Serves 6

Variations: add a tin of drained chickpeas instead of peas and 1-2 tsp cumin, then serve with couscous.  Or add a tin of haricot or kidney beans.

Notes: If you don’t have a slow cooker use a large heavy iron casserole with a lid and cook in the oven.  It will take 3-4 hours at 160°C and will need a little more water – check and add as necessary.

Recipes usually call for a tablespoon or two of tomato paste, leaving you with the rest of the jar or tin which goes off in the fridge within a week or so.  To avoid this fill ice cube trays with tomato paste.  When frozen tip cubes into a plastic container to use whenever you need them.