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MY MOST SEARCHED WORD: GIGOT! And a new Gigot Chop Stew: Australian Lamb Shoulder Chop Stew (serves 6)

I got a stat report from WordPress (my blog server) at the beginning of this year and it was an interesting read. It was nice to see how over the past several years the visits to my blog have grown by the thousands. However, the most amazing fact to me is how many times a day GIGOT CHOP RECIPE is searched! This dinner was made in Ireland in August 2012 and has been made by someone other than me every day since!

Gigot Chop Lamb Stew

The most in demand recipe on my blog – Gigot Chop Lamb Stew

Gigot is a term I grew up with in Ireland and refers to a cut of meat from the forequarter (shoulder side) of a lamb, but here in the United States the word is pretty much unknown. That does not mean that a gigot doesn’t exist. I have found two explanations for why this chop is called a gigot that I am satisfied with: 1) the word is taken from the french word gigue which means fiddle (fiddle used for gigs) and suggests that the shape of the fiddle is similar to the shape of the leg of a lamb, and 2) it could also have come from the french word giguer which means to hop or jump, which conjures up an image of a little lamb frolicking in a green pasture! Of course this would suggest that the “gigot” comes from leg chops but as far as I know this is not true (at least for big lamb-eating places like Ireland and Australia) – all very confusing indeed!

a peak at the view

a peak at the view from The Rock of Dunamace, County Laois, Ireland (these are the kinds of fields Irish sheep graze in!)

The trick now, being in the United States, is where to find a good lamb chop that is the equivalent of the gigot chop? This is easy enough if you have a real honest-to-goodness butcher behind the counter, but sadly these days one is hard-pressed to find someone in the meat department in a supermarket in most places around here who really know their meat. Of course it is possible, but I find for something like this, it best to do your own research so you know exactly what to ask for.

Typical selection of cheese at any supermarkert in Ireland

Typical selection of cheese at any supermarket in Ireland

Go into any (almost any anyway!) supermarket in Ireland and there are four things you can count on; great bread, cheese, fish and meat. There is always someone working there who knows  a great deal more than you which helps enormously when deciding on certain cuts of meat or what kinds of fish can stand up to stewing or frying etc?

Woolly sheep happily grazing in County Wexford

Woolly sheep happily grazing in County Wexford (as seen from my train window on the way to Dublin)

The supermarkets in Ireland of course have those same aisles of sterile-y packaged meat and fish but there is always a meat or fish counter where someone is working on filleting fish or frenching chops, to answer any questions you might have. The supermarket that is closest to where I live now has a buzzer in the meat section that says “press if you need help” which I have pressed a few times but invariably no one shows up or they think I’m mad to even ask about say grinding some lamb so I can make burgers. This would mess up their pork and beef grinders I’m afraid. Most of the meat comes in prepackaged, so changes are a little difficult. Nowadays this service is only available in more upscale supermarkets which to me is such a strange thing. Why should it be a luxury to ask someone to cut a piece of cheese or butterfly a roast, but that’s the way it is I’m afraid. We are making progress with the “slow movement” and the Farm to Table trend, but while this is a good thing, it also makes ordinary food seem so complicated and exclusive.

Ide having a chat after lunch

Beef also makes a tasty Irish Stew (Ide having a chat after lunch in Tipperary)

Back to my Gigot Chop quest! I decided to make a Gigot Chop stew here in the United States so that at least when this recipe was searched I would have two to choose from; one from Irish Lambs and now one from Lamb I bought the other day in my favorite “upscale” supermarket. I could have gone to a Butcher Shop (now another Trendy way to buy your meat here!) but I wanted to find this elusive piece of meat in a more general location. Most people do their entire shopping in one place so that was where I was determined to find it.

This is the Forequarter of a lamb where the chop for lamb stew typically comes from and where the "gigot" comes from

This is the Forequarter of a lamb where the chop for lamb stew typically comes from and where the “gigot” comes from. This diagram comes from a fantastic Australian website; Beef and Lamb.com.Au that you should most certainly put into your favorites if you want to find out more about meat cuts. It even has an app you can download for beef, lamb and goat meat cuts! By the way, they do not call any chop from the forequarter a “gigot chop” so I’m guessing this is strictly a European term.

I’m afraid when I mentioned the word “gigot” to the guy behind the counter he was dumbstruck and headed off to find a guy “that really knew the product” and I could ask him. As helpful as he was, he hadn’t a notion and never heard the word before in his life. Of course this was understandable and after we talked about the cut of meat coming from the shoulder and I was going to stew it, he directed me towards the piece of meat he was sure that if it wasn’t a gigot exactly, it would make a great stew! Well if this was my choice I was going to go with it and see how it fared.

lamb shoulder blade chop

Lamb shoulder-blade chop. This is a lovely looking chop! (there is a small bone but no marrow bone)

The lamb chops he recommended were labeled Lamb Shoulder Arm Chop and Lamb Shoulder Blade Chop, the latter being $1 more per lb. The arm has a little bone with the marrow which seemed more similar to my gigot chops, but the blade had a nice bit of fat going through it so I couldn’t decide. In the end I bought both kinds and would cook them together and see if one ended up tasting better than the other? I thought that at least now there were more choices for anyone who could only find one kind wherever they shopped. I know, this seems all so nit-picky but when I am hellbent on cooking a specific dish I do like to use the right ingredients. So this post is for all those nit-pickers out there like me. And the people who are only interested in the recipe can skip all of this foody-nonsence and go straight to the recipe!

lamb shoulder arm chop

Lamb shoulder-arm chop – also a beautiful looking cut of meat (has a marrow bone and is slightly fattier than the blade chop)

These chops are organic (I figured that would put them in a similar category to the grass-fed lamb that I used for the stew in Ireland) and are actually not from the United States. It is near impossible to find lamb that is from here  unless you seek out a boutique organic farm or specialty butcher shop. These chops are from a country with as strong a lamb tradition as Ireland; Australia.


The most amazing Lamb Stew

It was an amazing stew, and I would go so far as to say that this may even have been a better dish than the one I made in Ireland. It is a different style of Irish Stew in that I didn’t pan sear the meat or sweat the base vegetables. I layered the ingredients into a heavy casserole with a dredge of flour on the meat and a little salt and pepper on the veggies and let the oven do the rest. I did make sure there was also some fresh thyme in the mix as lamb without thyme just wouldn’t be the same!

My lovely layered lamb stew just out of the oven

My lovely layered lamb stew just out of the oven

After an hour in the oven I layered the top with some par-boiled potatoes and put it back into the oven to finish cooking. I used what is traditional, regular white potatoes, but also added some sweet potatoes with them. I had one on hand and I thought the sweetness would pair great with the flavor of the lamb. It was a good decision!

This was one of those dinners where the whole table was in absolute reverie, too busy sopping up sauce and getting the marrow out of bones to even talk. All I could here was the sound of food being lapped up.

The River Barrow (10 minutes from our house)

The River Barrow (the river flowing through County Carlow where I grew up). Cooking this lamb stew last night brought back some lovely sense memories as the aroma from the oven permeated my kitchen. Yep – now I’m homesick!

So if you are curious about Gigot Chops and think you cannot find them here in the United States (or you are in a place where that’s what they are called and you are still craving a dinner like this!), go out and grab any kind of lamb shoulder chop you can find and you will have the right cut of meat to make this superbly unctuous dinner. This will be a great dish to have in your repertoire to warm cockles and hearts on those long wintry nights in your future.

Also worth mentioning is that this recipe could be made by a 5-year-old  –  super simple!


“Australian” Lamb Shoulder Chop Stew (serves 6)

You will need:

2 1/4 to 2 1/2lbs Lamb Shoulder Chops (6 in all – blade or arm chops Or gigot chops)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 medium onions (yellow, white or sweet onions)

2 cups baby carrots or 3 carrots peeled and thickly sliced

fresh thyme – about 4 or so individual sprigs (or bunch of little sprigs)

salt and pepper for seasoning

4 med potatoes (white or red skin unpeeled or mix with some yellow or white sweet potatoes  – peel the sweet potatoes) – cut into thick rounds

2 cups (approx) of chicken broth

2 tbs unsalted butter


Preheat oven to 350*

1 – Place flour on a dinner plate and add several grinds of pepper and 1 teaspoon of salt. Pat the chops with a cloth or paper towel to dry them and dredge in flour. Lay half of the chops in the bottom of a heavy-duty casserole dish. Sprinkle half of the thyme over the meat.

Dredge chops in seasoned flour and layer into casserole dish

Dredge chops in seasoned flour and layer into casserole dish

2 – Add the onions and carrots in an even layer and add the rest of the fresh thyme leaves. Top with the remaining chops and add the broth. Only add as much as it takes to get to the beginning of the top layer of chops. If 2 cups is too much, then use less, or more as the case may be. Cover tightly with lid and place in oven and cook for 1 hour.

Add layer of veggies and top with remaining cops and add broth

Add layer of veggies and top with remaining cops and add broth

3 – In the meantime, parboil the potatoes by placing in pot, cover with cold water and place on high on stove top. Cover with lid and when the water is boiling, time potatoes for about 5 minutes. Drain gently into a colander and set aside until ready to use.

prep and parboil potatoes

prep and parboil potatoes

4 – Remove casserole from oven and remove lid. Layer the potatoes on top and dot with the butter. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and return to the oven for about 35 minutes. If the potatoes are cooked but not browned by the end of the cooking time, turn on the broiler and brown the potatoes (looks much better on presentation).

top with potaotes and dot with butter before placing back in oven

top with potatoes and dot with butter before placing back in oven

Serve into warmed shallow plates and dig in! I had bread and a salad on the table to go with this hearty meal.

Serve in warmed shallow plates or bowls

Serve in warmed shallow plates or bowls

The Most Beautiful Train Trip Ever

The Train Trip

I have just left Italy with my family where I have been spoiled for the past three months. Being part of an art program (UGA Studies Abroad Program in Cortona, italy) meant a field trip each saturday to fabulous towns such as Rome, Florence, Siena, Pienza, Assisi and Lucca, to name but a few. The trips were planned with maps, organised tours and points of interest.

Yellow fields of rape flowers (for harvesting rape seeds)

So when we decided to go to Dublin for the day I couldn’t help falling into the pattern I had gotten used to, and figured out what we would do down to the last detail. I know Dublin very well, but there were places I hadn’t visited in years, and now it was time to play tour guide and show my family around.

Bridge in the early morning light

Getting to Dublin from Wexford was the part of the trip I was most looking forward to. I had dreamed about taking a train from these two points all of my life, but somehow it never worked out (I grew up in a town on a different line, making it inconvenient and so it never happened). This two and a half hour train ride is touted to be one of the most scenic rail trips in Europe and this past Wednesday I got the opportunity to weigh in on the claim.

Woolly sheep happily grazing in County Wexford

This train begins it’s journey in Rosslare harbor and runs up the east coast to Dublin’s Connolly Station just off the Liffey Quay. We boarded the train in Wexford town at 7.30 in the morning and made sure to snag seats on the coast side of the railcar. The train pulled out from the station and I watched the window in anticipation.

Close to the rocky shore

Don’t you just love when proud boasting falls short of the real truth! The real truth being that my eyes did not leave the cab window until we pulled into Connolly Station. I would have been satisfied to stay on the train and do it all over again, skipping my meticulously planned trek around the city streets (slight exaggeration, since that part of our trip was pretty darn wonderful too).

more shoreline from my train window

From Wexford the train left the coast and turned slightly inland, following the beautiful river Slaney. The Slaney wound it’s way around multi-colored green stretches of farmland where sheep, cows and horses seemed to be very contentedly going about their animal business. Being that the hour was early, we got to enjoy the whole scene through a thin vapor of soft mist, and streaky morning light. I felt at any moment Cathy would appear, gliding over the moist dewy grass in search of Heathcliff; yes really.

Yellow furze bushes found all over Ireland

As we left Wexford and entered County Wicklow, the train headed for the coastline again. First we dipped close to the shoreline, and I watched the waves turning pebbles over as it made frothy contact with the beach. Brisk early morning walkers made their way along the sand in the company of their friends, or a dog, happy to be let loose to run in and out of the cold water, or bound foolishly after scavenging seagulls.

Cliffs in County Wicklow

We then seemed to soar upwards and the train appeared to cling to the rock face. I felt as if I were on a ship with the sea swirling powerfully below me. We were so close to the edge I would have had to hang out of the window to get a sense of how close and high we actually were. There was no question of my doing anything remotely that brave, and so my camera only captured part of the awe I was feeling.

Sailing school in Dun Laoghaire

On a humorous side-note, while we were taking pictures and constantly telling each other to look at this and that, there was a couple sitting opposite us doing the strangest activity I have ever seen on a train. About ten minutes after boarding, the woman pulled a hair straightener out of a bulging knapsack, unwound the cord and plugged it into an outlet on the back wall behind her seat. I couldn’t help staring as she proceeded to straighten her hair, then give the device to her gentleman friend who continued to quaff the back strands for her! She was oblivious to everything else; the fact that she was on a train, the magnificent view, and all four of us sneaking glances when we could. It made my trip all the more interesting, and I was glad for the bonus entertainment!

Graffiti by the bay in Dublin

After leaving the cliff face the train leaped alone beside an old wall separating the train line for the bay. The wall was covered from beginning to end in graffiti, letting me know that the gritty and interesting part of Dublin was still alive and kicking. The wall eventually gave way to the majestic Dun Laoghaire Harbor in Dublin. The picturesque and exotic view bordered on the feel of a more mediterranean resort town somewhere in France, rather than the rugged and gusty Ireland. We arrived in Connolly Station moments later feeling wholly spoiled but ready for more of the same.

Boats in Dun Laoghaire

The train line was the very first built in Ireland in the year 1834, and if you ever visit this beautiful country I strongly recommend you buy a ticket, sit back and stare out of your window. Feel free to bring your hairdryer or straightener. I know for a fact there is an electrical outlet in Car A!

The loveliest train trip

*Stay tuned for my post on what we did in Dublin (coming next)*