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Cawl Cymreig (Welsh Cawl)

This is a recipe for an authentic Welsh Cawl (or broth) – however there is no one correct recipe for cawl. Like most regional country soups or broths the ingredients that traditionally went into them were governed by the seasons or by what was to hand. Cawl is no different, although it appears that the earliest cawl recipes probably used bacon as opposed to the expensive lamb cuts, (which started to be favoured in the 20th Century). Deceptively simple and yet wonderfully delicious cawl can be described thus: “Cystal yfed o’r cawl a bwyta’r cig”, it is as good to drink the broth as to eat the meat – a proverb often first attributed to Cattwg Ddoeth, (Cattwg the Wise) Saint Cadoc of Llancarvan in 570 AD.

Cawl was the dish most commonly served for dinner on the farm during the winter months in Wales, with the recipe given below becoming (more or less) the standard cawl seen across much of Wales in the early part of the 20th Century; but there are many other local versions.  Cawl ffwt a brew: a hurridly made broth with everything cut up small. Cawl pen lletwad: a vegetable only broth, made when meat was in short supply. Cawl twymo: the re-heated broth eaten on the following days of the week.  Cawl Awst: a recipe for the ‘best broth of the year’ including many different seasonal ingredients and best cuts of meat. Twmplen or Tymplen (suet dumplings) these were sometimes added to a cawl: a classic welsh recipe for a plain twmplen (tymplen ddall – blind dumpling) is given as an optional extra to include (highly recommended).

Cawl Cymreig Recipe

Enough for 6 – serve with fresh bread.

Recipe Ingredients:

  • 1.5 kg best end of neck (lamb) cutlets
  • 6 potatoes (peeled and diced)
  • 2.5 litres water (with extra needed for topping up)
  • 1 onion (sliced)
  • 2 leeks (washed trimmed and sliced)
  • 2 carrots (peeled and sliced)
  • 1 small parsnip (peeled and diced)
  • 1/2 small swede (peeled and diced)
  • 1/2 small turnip (peeled and diced)
  • 1/2 small cabbage (shredded)
  • 2 sticks of celery (trimmed and diced)
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2 tsp of sea salt
  • 2 tsp freshly ground black peppercorns

Optional: Twmplen – Dumplings

  • 375g plain flour
  • 150g lard (softened)
  • 150g shredded suet
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 150ml buttermilk

Recipe Method:

Trim the meat of fat so far as possible, and chop into large, diced chunks – in a large saucepan cover the meat with cold water, add the salt and pepper, bring to the boil, and simmer slowly for 1 hour, then leave it to get cold and skim off all the excess fat.

Put in all the vegetables except one leek, the potatoes and half the parsley, cover and simmer very slowly on a low heat for 2 hours, (add more water if necessary) then add the potatoes and continue cooking for 40 minutes. Allow to cool and store in the fridge overnight.

Optional: Twmplen – Dumplings: Into a mixing bowl sift in the flour then rub in the softend lard to make a mixture similar to breadcrumbs. Sprinkle in the sea salt and shredded suet.

In a cup dissolve the bicarbonate of soda into the buttermilk, and pour it gradually into the flour to make a light dough mixture. Add more flour if a little wet or more buttermilk if a little dry.

Shape the dough into small, similar sized balls in your hands. Let them rest in the fridge for 30 minutes then use them in the cawl on the day you are serving it. Carefully drop the dumplings into the boiling cawl, turn the heat down after ten minutes, and cook through for 90 minutes (they will almost double in size).

Serve: The next day reheat the Cawl on a gentle simmer for 90 minutes (if adding in the dumplings) or just 30 minutes (if served without the dumplings). When reheating the cawl add the remainder of the parsley, taste for seasoning and adjust, finely chop the remaining leek on top with five minutes to go. Serve hot in bowls with some fresh bread.

Note: all the best cawl’s are made the day before they are eaten; skim the fat off the top when cooked and cold and allow the flavours to develop and mingle overnight. As to whether the Cawl should be thickened or not (a soup as opposed to a broth) this is a matter of regional and even family recipe preferences. However, general consensus believes that a Cawl should be a well seasoned, watery broth full of the flavours of the meat and vegetables, and not thickened like a soup. If you wish to thicken it traditionally use some pearl barley and rolled oats.

Twmplen or Tymplen – The only thing to remember when putting dumplings into a broth or stew is that the cawl needs to be hot, boiling and bubbling, when putting them in (to help keep the dumpling shape and integrity) and then the heat under the cawl can be turned down after 10 minutes or so, so the dumplings can simmer in the broth for about 90 minutes. At one time it was common in some areas to eat the twmplen first (as a first course) to take the edge off the hunger when waiting for the cawl to be ready.