Donal Skehan never expected to fall head first into the food world. The Irish chef—who boasts nearly one million subscribers to his YouTube channel and has written nine cookbooks—has come a long way since he first serendipitously launched his eponymous blog back in 2007.
“My blog was purely an escape for me,” Donal explains to me. “I was working at a music TV station in Ireland and found it boring, so my escape was to look at other blogs and create recipes myself.”
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More than 10 years ago, the food blogging world was not as robust as it is now. Most bloggers were simply posting recipes—without adorning them with illustrations or photography. Smitten Kitchen and The Pioneer Woman had just rolled onto the scene. And Donal’s blog was making headlines: His photography and recipes were eye-catching, and he ultimately won an award for the best Irish food blog not too long after he first created the site. Soon after, he was writing cookbooks and running his charismatic YouTube channel.
His success came as a surprise for him; after all, he was untrained—merely a guy passionate about food.
“I think what has been successful for me is that I simplify the recipes,” Donal says. “They’re always doable, achievable in 10 ingredients or less, and I think that’s what shone through the books and TV shows and blogs.”
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His most recent cookbook is “Meals in Minutes,” a collection of 90 quick, easy recipes for when you just need a meal on the table—and fast. This book comes on the heels of his move from Ireland to Los Angeles (in an attempt to be closer to the online video scene), and was directly inspired by his family’s relocation. Having been used to operating in a kitchen with every gadget under the sun, Donal and his family were bouncing from Airbnb to Airbnb, working in kitchens that were simply stocked with one pot and one pan.
Meals in Minutes, $19.39 on Amazon
“The realization of ‘what can I cook that is worthwhile making with a small amount of equipment and a little amount of time?’ is how ‘Meals in Minutes’ came about,” he says.
The book is divided into a couple of sections—from One Pot to Six Ingredients and Under 30 Minutes—replete with recipes for cauliflower macaroni and cheese, slow-cooked white wine chicken, and basil-butter grilled salmon. Everything comes together quickly—and using relatively few appliances—meaning that it’s easy enough to get something on the table in minutes.
Below, Donal shares a recipe for his riff on Irish stew. His admits that while his version might make purists revolt, with food there’s the inevitable consequence of evolution, and that’s exactly what’s happened to his Irish stew.
“Normally when I have Irish stew at home, we’ll have Irish soda bread on the side,” he explains. “How do you get that nice little comfort all done in one pot?” The answer is a crowning of plump cheddar dumplings. The rounds of dough are cooked in the same pot as the meat, resulting in a wonderful mess of warm cheesy dough, beef, carrots, onions, and potatoes.
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“On a cold dark day—when the windows are all steamed up—nobody’s going to complain about the fact that it’s not traditional,” Donal says. “[It’s] why I always embrace evolution.”
Irish Stew with Pearl Barley & Cheddar Dumplings Recipe
I have been making the same Irish stew for years, with good reason; it’s a tried-and-tested recipe that brings instant comfort. Recently, however, these cheddar dumplings were added to the traditional recipe and I’m not sure I can go back now! The beauty of this stew is that is benefits from being made ahead—just finish it off by making the dumplings the next day.
Irish Stew with Pearl Barley & Cheddar Dumplings
- 1.2kg boneless lean lamb, trimmed of excess fat and shoulder or neck, cut into large chunks
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 large onions, sliced
- 2 celery sticks, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 3 tbsp pearl barley
- l bay leaf
- 2-3 thyme sprigs
- 1 liter chicken stock
- 2 large waxy potatoes, diced sea salt and black pepper
- 175g self-raising flour
- 2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 75g butter
- 50g cheddar, grated
- Preheat the oven to 160°C (140°C fan).
- Season the lamb and dust lightly with the flour. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large casserole over a medium heat and brown the lamb all over in batches. Remove from the casserole and set aside.
- Add the remaining oil to the casserole and gently fry the onions, celery and carrot for 5minutes until softened. Scatter the pearl barley into the casserole then place the lamb chunks on top along with the bay leaf, thyme sprigs and stock. Add the potatoes, season well then bring to a boil. Cover with a lid, transfer to the oven and cook for 2 hours.
- Add all the ingredients for the dumplings to a mixing bowl. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips. Season well, then gradually add up to l00ml of water until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough. Using floured hands, shape into 12 evenly sized balls and set aside.
- Remove the casserole from the oven and increase the heat to 200°C (180°C fan). Place the dumplings around the edge of the stew. Re-cover and return to the oven for a further 30 minutes until the dumplings are pillowy . To brown the dumplings, cook for another few minutes uncovered. Serve in deep bowls.
Header image courtesy of Donal Skehan.