Thursday, May 24, 2007


2 Recipes with Lamb: Roasted and Braised

It seems a crime to admit this, but these two recipes constitute the only times I have ever cooked lamb. Really. And I am from the country often joked about for having more sheep than people. Actually, one of the reasons I have not ventured down the lamb-trodden path is because Eric doesn't really like lamb. When he first told me about this, I was quite shocked. What's not to like? I have since learned that a lot of people do not like lamb, thinking it too strong in flavour. I suppose it is because I was raised on this symbol of the slaughtered innocent that I do not consider it gamey. It tastes, well, normal to me, but that is hardly a sophisticated description of its qualities.

There is no arguing that lamb is an institution in New Zealand. We mean business. I knew that if I was going to cook lamb for my parents I would have to put on a good show. I saw two legs of lamb in the deep freezer and undertook to cook them one week apart.

I first decided on a very simple Nigel Slater recipe. I did not alter any of the suggested ingredients because I wanted to know what a simply roasted leg of lamb tasted like, what its characteristics are. Of course this all depends on what the lamb was fed on and for how long the meat was hung, but all food has an inherent flavour that can be ascribed to it. So, what is lamb's? I think it is a sweet herbiness, like thyme, which is probably why lamb is often paired with rosemary -
exactly what Mr. Slater suggest for a simple dinner of roast lamb.

Lamb Roast
(from Nigel Slater's Appetite)

2kg/4lb lamb on the bone, either leg or shoulder
4 sprigs rosemary or 6-8 stems thyme, finely chop the leaves and reserve the stems
olive oil, to massage the lamb
1-2 heads of garlic, unpeeled

1) Preheat the oven to 230 C/445 F.
2) Place your preferred piece of lamb on the bone into a roasting tin.
3) Stir olive oil into the herby leaves, then add salt and pepper.
4) Massage the herby liquid goodness into the lamb.
5) Cut the head(s) of garlic in half and place under the lamb with the reserved stems of rosemary or thyme.
6) Put the lamb in the oven and roast for 20 minutes.
7) Turn the heat down to 200 C/390 F and roast for 15 minutes per 500g/per pound. This is if you want medium-rare flesh. Should you prefer yours rare, roast for 12 minutes per 500g/per pound; if you prefer it well-done, roast for 17 minutes per 500g/per pound. You might want to check on the garlic if you are going to leave it in the oven for more than an hour to make sure it does not burn.
8) Allow the lamb to rest for at least 10 minutes before carving in order to allow the juices to redistribute.

I chose to roast the lamb until it was medium-rare in order for my mother and grandfather to eat the flesh closest to the layer of fat, where it would be darker; my father and I could then devour the succulent flesh closest to the bone. As you can see, the flesh is nice and pink and the skin nicely roasted. I can recall many an overcooked and charred roast lamb in many homes around Auckland. This lamb was not jaw-breaking to any stretch of the imagination; it was juicy and perfumed with flavor. You should not go wrong with this version of a quick roast lamb, served with the standard veggies here, but that is an imperial hangover and not mandatory for you.

As the weather cools, I gravitate towards meat that is braised, falling off the bone and served on a bed of caramelized vegetables. I love watching the windows fog up because I have purposefully kept them closed, trapping the aromatic vapors from the dutch oven in the kitchen. Most time spent in the kitchen is joyous, but I do not find many as cozy as those in which braising is taking place.

The main difference between roasting and braising is that liquid is involved with the latter. The liquid does not typically cover the meat, for that would eventually stew it, not really allowing for any caramelization of the meat unless it is browned beforehand. Tyically I do not see the point in browning the meat before braising it because there is so much resultant flavour in this method of cooking.

I have come across a very tempting Italian recipe for braised lamb with juniper berries in Diana Henry's Roast Figs, Sugar Snow. I got very excited at the prospect of making it because my angelheart Eric and I were in Colorado in April visiting our friends, the stylish and effervescent Ailene and the espresso-loving and ruminating Mirko, when we bought junpier berries for the first time. Being apart from Eric at the moment, I am infinitely gladdened by anything that makes me think of him. Knowing how much he likes braised meat, I thought I would try this recipe and tempt him to like lamb. I only wish I had attempted to bring the juniper berries to New Zealand with me, for I had no luck finding them during a shopping excursion yesterday. I decided upon something equally resinous and aromatic - peppercorns. I understand that this changes the flavor profile of the Marcella Hazan recipe that Ms. Henry writes about so invitingly, but I was more eager to see how lamb tastes when braised. Ms. Henry also suggests separating the fat from the liquid once the braising is complete, and you can then pour it over the meat. I didn't bother, choosing to turn the heat up to medium to create a really thick juice that would collect the caramelized veggies.

Melting Leg of Lamb
(Adapted from Diana Henry's Roast Figs, Sugar Snow)

2kg/4lb leg of lamb on the bone
1 carrot, diced
1 stick of celery, diced
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns (juniper berries), quickly walloped with a mallet
3 cloves of garlic, smashed with the side of a chef's knife
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
350ml/12 fl. oz white wine (I used a blend: semillon/chardonnay)

1) Over a low heat, put all the ingredients into a dutch oven (a heavy-bottomed casserole dish).
2) Cover with a lid and cook for 4 hours, turning the meat every 45 minutes.
3) Partially remove the lid, turn up the heat to a medium-low setting.
4) Cook for another 1 1/2 hours, turning every 45 minutes.
5) The meat should be brown and tender at this stage. If not, turn the heat up a bit more. You can do the same should you wish your liquid to be thicker (as I did).
6) Allow the lamb to rest for at least ten minutes before carving.

Mum beat me to the plating of this dish, too, for I was busy putting the webcam in a safe place. This is why you do not see slices of lamb to mark the difference in results from the above recipe, but in place see caramelized veggies atop the braised lamb. The meat was tender, succulent and sweet. It was redolent of the thyme-like characteristics I think lamb has, and it had a nice hit of spice from the black peppercorns, complementing the gooseberry-like notes of the wine. Quite different to the above recipe, but it was easy to execute. To quote Ms. Henry, this braised lamb is winter on the tongue.

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We've only recently started getting decent lamb here, as Estonia tended to grow sheep for wool and not for their meat. Really good stuff is still not easy to come by though. Both recipes sound delicious. I keep forgetting that you're not approaching summer 'down there', but winter - the seasonal discrepancy is fun to follow in the foodblogosphere:)
Although I no longer eat red meat, lamb under dressed in herbs, garlic, vinegar and honey was one of the finest dishes I ever made. These recipes are beautifully wrought. If they do not tempt Eric into conversion, nothing will. I am especially intrigued by the idea of juniper berries.
I do not eat lamb but oh my how delicious those plates of food look! You did a wonderful job Shaun.
Oh, I just love lamb! Both dishes look great and I feel very tempted by the braised lamb as I also love juniper berries. I have never used it in combination with lamb (only beef) but it sounds great!
I do like lamb, but only if it's quite mild. My favourite is loin chops, with the little eye of meat. Maybe you could start Eric off on them? Minced lamb is absolutley beyond me. Roast lamb on the other hand is fab, and your dishes both look so deeply savoury and comforting.
It's always a toss up for me whether lamb or pork is my favorite meat, but these recipes are a great reminder why lamb is a mighty contender for that title. Thanks for posting great recipes!
Nigella has a gorgeous recipe for slow roasted shoulder of lamb 'Warm Shredded Lamb Salad with Mint and Pomegranate' - as it 's a salad it means you can get to enjoy the slow cooking method in summer too. I have just ordered a quarter of a Hebridean lamb from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides as I heard that this breed is particularly tasty - looking forward to comparing it to the blackface lamb you see often in the countryside around here (Scotland)

The Nigella recipe is here if you don't have it:

You can't go far wrong with Nigel Slater or Diana Hendry either though - yum!
Lamb is my all time favourite red meat. You'll have us Brits craving winter food that's for sure.
Pille - I keep telling myself that I will go to the market and make something from very seasonal products. I think the roast and braised lamb are clear indicators of colder climes, but I would like to share with other food bloggers the produce we consume during these dark days, such as kumara, a sweet potato.

Susan - I have not given up on the juniper berries. I will braise lamb in the States over the summer...We may end up having to pull it and make it into a salad or something, though. Any ideas? Also, I notice many people are giving up on red meat, usually for either health or supposed ethical reasons. I will only give it up for reasons concerning health, but only if I have to :)

Sara - Hey, nice to see you here!! It's been a while, eh? The plates are full of roasted veggies. I'm slowly getting my parents into roasted garlic and squash.

Vonsachsen - Oh, how I really wish I could have found juniper berries. I really wanted to make the dish faithfully, especially because it was the inclusion of juniper berries that intrigued me in the first place. Hopefully, I will soon be successful in realising that.

Kelly-Jane - Indeed both meals were very savoury and much wanted on very cold nights. Perhaps I should start Eric off on some good Kiwi lamb chops - thanks for the suggestion.

Christina - Oh, I know your pain. Lamb, pork, lamb, pork...Eric cannot get over how much I adore pork, which is great for me because there are so many Taiwanese dishes that principally use pork, but he does not like it as much. I should see about getting some wild boar...

Mark - First of all: Welcome! Thanks for checking in all the way from Scotland. Yes, I have "Nigella Bites" and may even think about making that salad when I go back to the States over the Summer. Please let me know how the Hebredian lamb goes down.

Amanda - Well, sadly Summer is all too short in your part of the world, so you may not be wanting Autumn and Winter to hurry along. I hope though that you stop by over the cold months to see if there is anything that inspires you when the sun gets further away from you and closer to me.
OOh, I love lamb that is cooked to the point of collapse - I did a similar 7 hour leg of lamb (not Diana Henrys though) and it was still pink, but like raggedy pieces of silk. Stunning! Both lamb dishes look great! You are feeding your family well!
Freya, love - Yes, this little foray into the world of lamb has confirmed that I really do love braised meat. I should have known since one of my favourite meals to eat is osso buco on a bed of risotto milanese. The 7 Hour Lamb sounds wonderful; I will check it out.
Lamb is one of my favorite meats... both of your recipes sound (and look) fantastic!!
Some ideas for quick/easy lamb: chops or kofta. There's stovetop tagine, or grill in a smoking cast iron skillet after a marinade w/ some tagine ingredients like preserved lemon slivers, kalamata olives, and golden raisins. You could also make kofta of ground meat, pine nuts and spices, served w/ a Greek yoghurt sauce. And here's the recipe I was talking about:
Brunosdream - Thank you for stopping by. These recipes are both easy to follow and very likely to produce good results for the inexperienced cook, or for a cook who has too many other things to do.

Susan - Thank you so much for the helpful and tasty ways to prepare summer dishes with meat. The tagine sounds like a treat, for the grill will not have to be going for too long - something to seriously consider during Los Angeles' terribly hot summers. I will have to think of an ingredient to replace the olives if I want to eat the chops, too. As for the kofta, they are the first Turkish food I ever made, but with a spicy tomato-based sauce. The yoghurt sauce is a nice change of pace and, again, seasonally appropriate (i.e. cool, making it perfect to eat in the yard). I see there are plenty of visits to your achives I have yet to make.
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