Well friends, this here blog is supposed to offer some culinary experiences in my own kitchen, and I’ve been negligent to post ‘em. I’ve taken plenty of photos and wrote plenty of notes, but hell. Never seem to find the time to get it all together get it posted. Hopefully, this begins a new era.
Last Sunday was Easter for the Orthodox folks, and I happen to be living with one. She’s a Serb, and tradition in her family was to roast a whole lamb on spit in the backyard. Being a firm agnostic and watching Monty Python as a child, I don’t do religious traditions with any degree of seriousness, but when it comes to traditional, cultural meals—particularly those that involve lamb—I’m perfectly willing to stumble along through the rituals.
So, I thought a nice leg of lamb would do nicely, and there’s a couple down at the St. Paul Farmers’ Market in Lowertown whose got ‘em—and a whole bunch of other lamb products. Steve and Tammy Schotthofer own and run Promised Land Farm in Western Wisconsin. I’d tell you more, but the damn market was still on its winter schedule, and therefore closed. It’s open for the summer on April 29, Saturdays and Sundays. Other locations around town are open during the week. So, Promised Land lamb will be another post.
My trek then took me first to Bread & Chocolate for coffee and a croissant, then to Kowalski’s, not holding out much hope for any lamb (they haven’t even had ground lamb regularly of late), particularly a leg just sitting around. I was astonished, however, to find both shank and a two-pound boneless leg. Not bad for no notice on a Sunday just shy of Noon. Grabbed the little boneless leg, fresh rosemary and garlic, and headed home.
Now, I considered grilling this little hunk o’ lamb, but, man, it was a gorgeous day and plenty of work to do outside, and after that all I’d really want to do is sit out on the deck, sip a drink, and read a book. So, sticking it in a pot and forgetting about it is what I wanted to do.
So, ‘round about 3 p.m., with the lady friend working hard outside and distracted, I snuck off into the kitchen to prep the meat. Now, I’ve been reading Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, and having a good time with it. Not that I’ve cooked anything from it to the letter yet (I haven’t run out to some of our good butchers to get the appropriate cut of meat for recipes I want to try), but I’ve taken a lot of his techniques for sauces and such, and what inspired me for this lamb roast was his “gigot de sept heures” recipe (seven hour leg of lamb).
Of course, I don’t have seven hours to spend. Nor do I need seven hours, with a two pound hunk o’ meat. And while I had the basic ingredients, I didn’t have the fixins for a “bouquet garni” (parsley, thyme and a bay leaf tied together and bundled in cheesecloth) to toss in the mix. But I figured the fresh rosemary—just like grandma used to use—would be just fine.
So, with much inspiration from Mr. Bourdain, here’s my lazy man’s two-pound boneless leg of lamb sorta braised.
You need (or, rather, what I had):
• A boneless, two pound leg of lamb will adequately feed two hungry people. If you can get a bone-in, get it. It’ll taste better.
• Some white wine (half-decent stuff will do, don’t go blowing major dough on it.)
• Fresh rosemary
• Fresh garlic
• Salt and pepper
• Potatoes (whatever you’ve got, bakers or red ones)
First, dice up a couple cloves of garlic. Have about six or eight others peeled, left whole.
Take your meat, which, if it’s boneless, will be roped together or in one of these fancy-dancy string mesh thingys just like this. If you’ve got the bone-in version, it’s the same procedure here. Take a paring knife and stab your meat all over, top-to-bottom,
Next, rub your meat. With olive oil, salt and pepper, and while you’re at it, a hunk of that fresh rosemary.
Bourdain’s recipe calls for a Dutch oven. I don’t have one. And I’m not going to seal the roaster with dough (as he asks) for reasons you’ll read in a bit. For this size meat, a cheap-o chicken roaster will do fine. Bourdain says pour in the white wine, so I did (I used a Gewurztraminer). I figured for this size roast, ‘bout half to three-quarters of a cup. You spill a bit more in there, don’t worry about it. Be sure to drink some of the wine.
Now, my little roast had a sheath of fat on one side. That’s your top. You want all that good stuff seeping right down into the meat when it’s cookin’. Throw it in the roaster with the wine, toss in your garlic cloves and a big branch of that fresh rosemary on both sides, and yer good to go. Put the lid on, and set it in the oven, preheated to about 300.
The whole point of cooking it low and slow is to have that meat ridiculously tender, fall apart tender, when it’s done. One thing I hate with these kinds of roasts, though, is that a lot of folks will throw their vegetables in right away. I don’t like my vegetables fall-apart tender. I guessed this lamb would be done to fall apart-ness in about 2-plus hours, so I waited an hour or so, and about when I started to get the wafts of the cooking lamb and the rosemary, I yanked it out of the oven and then dropped in my roughly quartered baking potatoes and some baby carrots from the bag. Basted the whole mess real good, (and oh, it smelled so good). The meat had probably lost about a quarter of its size at that point.
Covered again, stuck it back in the oven, and forgot about it. An hour-and a half later, at about 6:30, we had the yard done, the deck cleaned off, piles of debris removed, and my first whiskey sour poured. And a meal waiting.
Cut off the string and I really didn’t have to use a knife to pull that meat apart. Set the meat, some potatoes and carrots in a bowl and ladled out some of the juice over the top of the meal and chowed down. Potatoes perfect, the carrots with a nice, distinctive sweet flavor, not tasteless sponges.
Yeah, doesn’t look the most attractive, your old school pub meal, basically, but it’s damn tasty. If you’ve
got any mint jelly, put a little of that on the meat for a little added flavor. But if you’re a real lamb aficionado as I am, you don’t want much getting in the way of the meat. We had some fresh bread to mop up the mess and it was a great meal for a swiftly cooling evening after a warm day outside.
A belated happy Orthodox calendar Easter.