Basque Sheepherders Lamb Stew

We are enamored of the Basque Country in Spain and adore lamb, so when we realized we had a few pounds of lamb stew meat in the freezer, Russ immediately went about researching possible recipes. After reviewing oodles of them, we settled on this Basque Sheepherders Lamb Stew from our copy of The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly.

IMG_2760To round out the meal we added rosemary roasted baby potatoes and a green salad.

It was, in a word, DELISH! The seasoning combination is just incredible. It didn’t take a lot of effort to create, but you do need to set aside a block of time because the meat must marinate in seasonings for up to 2 hours before you cook, or overnight. Thank goodness I noticed that direction, because dear-old-husband thought he had plenty of time on hand before he needed to start dinner, and busied himself making a homemade soup (which of course I didn’t complain about.)

But after you brown the meat and sauté the aromatics, the stew pretty much takes care of itself as it simmers slowly over the cooktop for a couple of hours. The liquid will still be a bit soupy at the end, so make sure to reduce it down and thicken before adding the meat back to the pot to warm through. Garnish with chopped parsley for a pop of color.

History of Basque Sheepherders in the U.S:

For more than a century in Northern Nevada and other parts of the Western United States, Basque immigrants were closely tied to the sheep business. The first Basque sheepmen in Northern Nevada came for the gold rush in the mid-1800s, usually by way of South America. Some Basques who were experienced with livestock found that they could make a better living providing the mining camps with meat and wool than they could by mining. As their operations grew, they began hiring herders from the Basque Country, and Basque sheepherders gained a reputation for dependability.

Population pressures and the political and economic environment in the Basque Country made sheepherding an attractive option for young, single men with a sense of adventure. Some of them were not fully informed about the solitary and difficult conditions that awaited them in the mountains and deserts of the West, and most of them did not stay with the job more than a few years. Most of them returned to their homeland located in the western Pyrenees, straddling the border between France and Spain on the coast of the Bay of Biscay.

Some Basque sheepherders took their wages in sheep instead of cash, and built their own sheep empires. Others found success in other occupations. In 1966 1,200 Basque sheepherders were employed in the United States, but 10 years later there were 106. It no longer made economic sense to go to America to herd sheep. Basque immigrant communities strive to keep their cultural traditions alive, and Basques in Northern Nevada celebrate their sheepherding heritage.

Basque Sheepherders Lamb Stew

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp chile powder
  • 1 Tbsp paprika, (preferably sweet Hungarian)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano or thyme
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 – 4 lbs lamb stew meat from the neck, shoulder or leg, with or without bones, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 fire-roasted red bell pepper OR 2 canned or bottled red peppers or pimentos
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 fire-roasted mild green chile, such as Anaheim, chopped or 1/4 cup chopped canned green chiles
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Directions
  1. Flavor Step – Mix the rub ingredients in a small bowl. Put the meat in a zipper-lock bag or a bowl, add the rub, and toss to coat thoroughly. Marinate the meat for up to 2 hours at room temperature or overnight, covered if necessary, in the refrigerator. If the meat has been refrigerated, bring it to room temperature before cooking.
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  2. In a blender or food processor, blend the red pepper and vinegar to a puree. Set aside.
  3. In a large skillet or heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Brown the lamb on all sides, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Remove the lamb and pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan. (You will probably need to do this in two or three batches.)
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  4. Reduce the heat to medium and sauté the onion, garlic, and green chile, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.
    IMG_2753
  5. Add the lamb, the pureed red peppers, the bay leaves, wine, and stock, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, for about 1-1/2 hours, or until the meat is tender. Stir once in a while and add more wine or stock if necessary; the liquid should barely cover the meat.
    IMG_2755
  6. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and set aside. Degrease the sauce and reduce it over high heat to thicken slightly. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Taste for salt and pepper. Return the meat to the pan to warm through, and serve.
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