A Bowl o’ Stew

John Duffy

John Duffy | March 10, 2024

A Bowl o’ Stew


Flann O’Brien’s much-loved character – The Brother – transported to the 21st century. What would he make of contemporary trends and fads? This episode imagines his reaction to Molecular Gastronomy, Nouvelle Cuisine, and the tampering of a subject very close to his heart.


Now the brother has a thing or two to say on most matters and sure the bowl o’ stew is no exception.

He practically wrote the book on stew and is a holy terror if the landlady above in the digs ever gets it wrong on ‘stew night’, which according to himself, is always the Wednesday. “Stew was practically invented by the cavemen for the Wednesday.”

He tells a harrowing tale of how one time he was over by in London and didn’t he go into one o’ them highfalutin 3-Star Michelin restaurants? Now, I’m naming no names but you’ve seen the proprietor of this eatery on the television, and indeed so have I. He looks like some kind of scientist. But, ah… lookit now. Sure I can’t say more for fear of falling foul of the legal crowd.

Annyway, there’s the brother sitting nursing a glass o’ wine and perusing the menu, when in between dishes such as: Lamppost Shavings in a Bicycle Saddle Reduction, Gaseous Timeless Oxter Dainties, Ephemeral Jukebox Buttons on Toboggan Toast Vapours and the like, all at £70 pound a skull too, doesn’t his eye fall upon something less outlandish. A real taste of the Emerald Isle: Traditional Irish Stew with a twist.

He admits the ‘twist’ worried him, but being the stew aficionado that he is: “Listen, I’ve et countless plates of the stuff from Dublin to Dubai,” says he, he felt compelled to give it a go. So, summoning the waiter over, he asks.

“Is the stew the real proper shtuff?”

And of course yer man sells it to him big style. Likely on commission, I’d say.

“Sir,” says the waiter, a lad from Belfast according to the brother, “If he was still around today, Finn McCool himself would practically live on it.”

So, taking him at his word the brother says, “A plate o’ thon’s the very thing for me,” and hands yer boyo back the card. He was in London on business do you see, and as the firm’s expenses was funding the dinner, the brother never so much batted an eyelid at the £95 price tag. It being listed as a special.

Annyway, after an age, doesn’t yer man come out from the back kitchen with a sort of shallow bowl yoke on a gold salver.

That immediately had the brother on red alert. Then looking into the bowl he sees there’s some class o’ brown gunk slopping about inside but with not so much as a shpud to be seen anywhere. Well, didn’t that put the tin lid on things? For as everyone knows, isn’t the shpuds the backbone of the dish?

“Traditional Irish Stew… with a twist, sir,” says the waiter.

He puts the bowl on the table with a practised flourish and goes to make a quick getaway. But he’s picked the wrong man, for the brother is onto him like an insurance salesman who’s got your private phone number and has his hands firmly around your throat.

“Hold your horses there, son. What in the name of good god is this?” says the brother, all the time him prodding the contents of the bowl with his fork. And then – the worst bit – doesn’t his eye spy the one solitary and tiny shpud hiding under a sliver of carrot? Hardly able to contain his disgust the brother prongs the lone pratie and holds it up under the waiter’s neb.

“Would you mind telling me what is this?” he asks, in a voice so sharp it would’ve cut the very sods o’ turf straight out of the bog.

“It’s a mercury-basted, irradiated Charlotte Potato kissed with liquid hydrogen. Chef likes to add them to the stew. It’s his modern riff on the dish,” says m’laddo.

Well, the brother’s heard enough by now and draws himself up to his full height.

“You may tell Chef from me he’s an imbecile.”

And with that, off he goes, leaving the waiter standing there, jaw on the floor and the whole of the restaurant’s clientele up on their feet cheering as the brother walks out.

Now that was in March and the brother never got over the trauma of the whole terrible business until near Christmas. Was atein the nerve tablets like sweeties for the best part of the first six months.

Oh yes, the brother is very particular about the stew alright. I have his own recipe meself and do be makin’ the odd pot now and again. And I’ll tell you this. It knocks these 3-Michelin star lads into a cocked hat, so it does. And the beauty of it is this. A well-stored batch will keep for up to a month and there’s good atein in it right down to the very last shpoonful.



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