Welsh Cawl for St. David’s Day, the Welsh National Holiday

daffodils

Daffodils

On March 1st, I’ll be celebrating St. David’s Day.  “Who/What?”  Well, think another Celtic country celebrates its national day–David instead of Patrick, Wales instead of Ireland and leeks and daffodils instead of Shamrocks. And some home-made Welsh Cawl.

St. David's Day the day for Welsh Cawl

St. David in a St. David’s Day Parade with Welsh Flag.

You can learn more about St. David and his day from this article in The Telegraph.

Of course, my special occasion planning goes straight to “What do we eat?”

Welsh Cawl for St. David’s Day

The answer to that question for St. David’s Day seems to vary, but always includes some Welsh Skillet Cakes and the Welsh soul food, Welsh Cawl.  Pronounce it like “owl”. Make it with winter vegetables. Sup it from a bowl with some crusty bread.

Like beef vegetable soup or stew, this dish is quite flexible, so feel free to toss in what you have on hand. But the basics that make it uniquely Welsh Cawl include lamb, leeks and potatoes. If you read that article on St. David, you might have picked up that the saint recommended the Welsh wear leeks in their caps when they went into battle. Smelly, what?  However, a more practical reason for leeks in the soup is that they  are widely available in late winter/early spring.

Leeks for Welsh Cawl

Leeks, ready for harvesting

The other vegetables that might be included in your Welsh Cawl could be carrots, rutabagas, parsnips and even some greens, like spinach or kale (which I’ll toss in to mine when I reheat it.)

Although this is a simple recipe, it takes a while to make it, and everyone recommends leaving it in the fridge for a day before you eat it. So plan ahead. The flavors have a chance to meld, and to me the most important reason for the day’s delay is that the fat accumulates on top and you can skim it off.

Peasant Food Isn’t The Bargain It Used To Be

Vegetables for Welsh Cawl

Vegetables for Welsh Cawl

Our peasant ancestors made this soup for its taste–but also for its economy.  In Wales on their small farms, they always had lamb available at this time of year, and they ate every cheap cut of meat from it. Generally they used neck for the Cawl. While lamb may still be abundant in parts of Europe (and New Zealand and Australia),  lamb in 21st Century America has graduated to a luxury item.

I could not buy lamb neck, even at a specialty butcher shop, and I wanted a piece of meat a bit meatier than the second choice, lamb shanks. So I went with another cut I had seen mentioned in online recipes–lamb shoulder. It was expensive.  $24.45 for less than three pounds. And a good deal of that was gristle and fat which got trimmed away after the initial cooking.

Of course it was not Welsh lamb–it came from Australia, which is fine, because I suspect that a good number of the sheep farmers in Australia originally emigrated from Wales.

Then there were the vegetables. Potatoes and carrots are standard, but not as many people like parsnips and rutabagas as I do.  Plus they don’t grow in the winter here in the Southwest.  So I paid $1.50 for one rutabaga and $1.99 for a pair of parsnips.

But the real shock came with the leeks at 2.49 per pound, I paid 1.77, and of course, threw most of them away, because I used only the white part.

That brings me up to $29.71, which would get close to $30.00 by the time I figured out (which I’m not going to do) the price of two potatoes, an onion, and one giant carrot.

On the other hand, the combination of lamb shoulder and veggies made over a gallon of soup, which will make at least 12 servings.

Welsh Lamb Cawl

Serves 12
Prep time 1 hour
Cook time 3 hours, 30 minutes
Total time 4 hours, 30 minutes
Dietary Diabetic, Gluten Free
Meal type Soup
Misc Serve Hot
Region British
On St. David's Day in Wales, the traditional comfort food is Welsh cawl--a hearty soup of lamb and winter vegetables.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 lb lamb (See notes)
  • 1 Onion
  • 2 Leeks
  • 2-4 Potatoes
  • 1 Rhutabaga
  • 2 Parsnips
  • 2 Carrots (or one very large)
  • Herb bundle (parsley, bay leaf, rosemary, thyme)
  • 2 tablespoons Olive Oil

Directions

1. Put oil in bottom of large pot, heat and add meat to brown on all sides.
2. When meat is browned, add onion, cut in quarters and whites of leeks, chopped in 1/2" slices-- cover meat with water.
3. Cut a small piece of cheesclot;, put herbs in the center and tie opposite corners to make a packet. Add to the water in the pan.
4. Bring to a boil and simmer for two hours (depending on the size of cut of meat and type of cut). Add water if needed to keep meat covered.
5. Peel other vegetables and cut in dice. In a small amount of oil in skillet, brown each type briefly.
6. When meat is cooked, remove from pan (leave onion and leeks in broth). Set meat aside and keep warm by putting aluminum foil on top. Put rhutabaga in broth and simmer 15 minutes.
7. Add carrots and simmer another 15 minutes. Meanwhile, remove meat from bones, cut in small pieces, and remove excess fat. Add parsnips and potatoes to the broth.
8. Add meat back and cook another 20 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Take pot off heat, let cool slightly and put in refrigerator for one to three days.
9. To serve, reheat gently. Add greens if you desire. Serve with a spring of parsley.

Note

Lamb neck is suggested as the favored cut for this recipe, in which case you would need to pick the meat off the bones after the initial cooking of the meat, and the cooking time would be shorter.

The same would be the case with lamb shanks, another possible cut of meat.

As the meat simmers, you may need to skim off fat. Add water if needed, to keep the meat covered at all times during cooking.

2 thoughts on “Welsh Cawl for St. David’s Day, the Welsh National Holiday

  1. Jane Eppinga

    Really enjoyed the cawl story and recipe. Didn’t you have a problem with onions? I found some French Huguenots and Jews in my family background. By the way I have a thresher cake recipe which I will submit to you in a couple of weeks. It starts with go to the chicken coop and get a dozen eggs.

    Reply
    1. Vera Marie BadertscherVera Marie Badertscher Post author

      Very astute of you to remember I can’t eat onions. I generally am all right with onions that have been cooked a long time–like in soup or stew–to I went ahead and used the leek, but skipped the onion just to be safe. It turned out that the leek, well cooked, gave me no problem.

      I love the beginning of the thresher cake recipe. Does it serve 20 people? It reminds me of some I’ve seen that start with something like “Kill a rabbit.”

      Reply

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