Navarin of Lamb
by Mark R. Vogel

            Culinary concoctions derive their names from the most unlikely sources.  Studying the history of culinary monikers is indeed a study of history itself.  Consider the following saga.

            In 1453 Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Turks.  Greece, subsumed by the Byzantine Empire, then came under Ottoman control until the Greek War of Independence in 1821-1829.  The Greek revolutionaries, aided by various European allies, successfully vanquished their Ottoman oppressors.  A pivotal encounter of that struggle was the Battle of Navarino, the last naval battle ever fought exclusively with sailing ships.     

            Navarino is a bay on the Ionian Sea.  On October 20th 1827, 22 British, French and Russian warships, under the command of British admiral Sir Edward Codrington, engaged a combined Ottoman armada of 78 ships.  In all fairness, the Ottoman armada was comprised of mostly smaller ships, (their three battleships were dwarfed by the allies’ ten), and their seaman were not as highly trained.  Be that as it may, in four hours only eight of their 78 ships remained seaworthy while not a single allied ship was lost.  Moreover, the Ottomans suffered 4,000+ casualties to the allies’ 661.  Codrington was no stranger to ridiculously lopsided victories, having distinguished himself in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar in which the British devastated Napoleon’s fleet.

            Thus, the Battle of Navarino accomplished two things.  First and foremost, it was the catalyst for the successful end of the Greek Revolution.  Second, for our purposes, it is one theory of how the dish navarin of lamb was named.  (A better explanation is that navarin of lamb was eponymously named after the French word for turnip, i.e., “navet,” since turnips are one of the components.  However the Battle of Navarino makes for more interesting reading). 

            A navarin quite simply is a lamb or mutton stew, a dish as ancient as cooking itself.  It should be noted that some chefs use the term navarin for other types of stews, such as poultry or fish, as long as they include turnips.  Obviously this harkens back to the aforementioned “turnip theory” of the word navarin.   

In any event, lamb stews are especially popular in Ireland.  But unlike a traditional Irish lamb stew, the French navarin has two differences.  Wine is substituted for beer in the broth and the vegetables are typically “spring” vegetables.  Herein lies our next lexicological perplexity.  “Spring” vegetables can mean one of two things.  First are vegetables whose peak season, (when they are at their ripest and freshest) is the spring, such as peas.  Second, “spring” can also refer to vegetables that mature later in the year and thus, are in their immature state in the spring.   Examples inlcude “baby” carrots or turnips, or “new” potatoes.  These callow counterparts are prized for their tenderness.  Navarin of lamb may embrace both types of spring vegetables, as in my recipe below.

 

NAVARIN OF LAMB

 

2 lbs. lamb shoulder, and/or neck of lamb, cut into stew-size pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons salted butter

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 large onion, roughly chopped

¼ cup all purpose flour

1 quart plus one cup lamb, beef, or veal stock

4 oz. red wine

Small handful of chopped herbs, parsley, rosemary and/or thyme

3 cups mixed baby vegetables, (carrots, turnips, potatoes, onions, etc.) 

1 cup fresh peas

 

            Season the lamb with salt and pepper and then brown the meat in the butter and oil in a large heavy pot with a snug-fitting lid.  When the meat is browned, remove with a slotted spoon, leaving as much of the drippings in the pot as possible, and reserve.  Add the onion and soften.  Then add the flour, lower the heat, and constantly stirring, make a roux, (mixture of fat and flour).  If it is too dry you can add a little more butter.  Stir and cook the roux/onion mixture for a few minutes to cook out the floury taste.  Slowly add the stock and wine and whisk to fully incorporate the roux with the fluids.  If using rosemary or thyme, add them now, if using fresh parsley, add it at the very end just before service.  Add a little salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a very gentle simmer, cover, and cook for one hour and fifteen minutes.  Add all the vegetables except the peas and continue to simmer until the vegetables are completely soft, (about 30 minutes depending on the size of them).  Add the peas at the end and cook for only a minute or two. 

            Let’s review a few variations with the stew.  Chefs vary on how much fluid should remain in a finished stew.  Follow your personal preference.  For a thicker stew uncover it during part of the final simmering time.   Conversely, have a little extra stock on hand in the event the liquid reduces more than you desire.  If you wish to add fresh chopped tomatoes or tomato sauce, add them with the stock and wine.  Baby vegetables are generally left whole with the possible exception of new potatoes.  Depending on their size you may wish to at least cut them in half. 

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