Do they have sheep in Burma?

Warning: the following is not for those overly squeamish about dietary fat, nor for the ethnic cuisine purist.

I made the following stew on Sunday and have been feasting on the leftovers for the last two nights. It has no actual connection to Burma (or Myanmar), other than the combination of South and Southeast Asian flavors which I believe to be characteristic of the country. The inspiration here, other than the ingredients at hand, is the memory of the stews that one of the other students in my dorm at the University of Chicago would cook in the kitchen there. I don’t know what part of Southeast Asia she was from — almost certainly not Burma — and I never got up the courage to ask to try one of the stews, but they always looked mysterious and smelled great.

The recipe should work as well with beef or even, I’d guess, goat. You don’t want a fine cut of meat for this: in the long cooking, the fat and connective cookie dissolve and combine with the coconut milk into an luxurious, even unctuous broth.

I served this over a Japanese medium-grain rice, but a Southeast-Asian sticky rice, or even arborio would work as well. In fact, the combination of the creamy broth with moist and slightly chewy rice is reminiscent of risotto. I would avoid Basmati or Jasmine rice … the broth should coat the rice, not be absorbed by it.

 "Burmese" Lamb Stew

  1.5lbs bone-in lamb stew, cut in 2 inch chunks

  1/3 cup canned coconut milk
    1 tbsp fish sauce
    1 small onion finely diced
    2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
    2 tsp fresh marjoram, finely chopped

    2 tsp fresh ginger, cut into fine shreds
    1 tsp ground coriander
  1/2 tsp turmeric
  1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
    4 whole green cardamon pods
    2 bay leafs
    8 black peppercorns

      Peanut oil

 Brown the lamb on all sides in oil over medium-low heat in a
 dutch oven or similar. Use multiple batches if necessary to
 avoid overcrowding the pan. Remove lamb from pan and drain on
 paper towels.

 Refresh oil if needed, add onion, and cook over low heat until
 the onion is soft and beginning to brown. Add ginger, whole and ground
 dried spices and saute briefly until the spices are fragrant.
 Add lamb and 3-4 cups water (enough to just cover the lamb), bring
 to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer partially covered for 2 hours.

 Add potatoes and fish sauce, cook for 20 more minutes until the
 potatoes are cooked, add coconut milk, return to a simmer, taste
 and add salt if the dish is insufficiently salty from the
 fish sauce.

 Serve over medium grain rice with a side salad of yogurt, cucumbers,
 and finely chopped red onion. Makes 3 small but rib-sticking

Notes: All quantities above are approximate and from memory. The lamb should be completely tender and coming off the bone, but the potatoes should keep their shape. Don’t eat the cardamon pods, bay leaves, or peppercorns.

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