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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Lamb from Slaughter

Recipe Me This Dept.: Although I need no excuse to tuck into a dish made from lamb, Easter offers a chance to make it the centerpiece of a family meal. In other words, a chance for the chef to show off.

As I discussed with my butcher the purchase of a leg of the beast, he mentioned that another customer cubed the meat and made a stew. This sounded at once appealing and distressing – distressing because I had my mouth set rolling the meat around a feta-and-spinach stuffing, appealing because a stew would force me in a different direction.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
With the help of my daughter, Lily, I came up with a recipe that proved very successful, if a touch complicated. I encourage you to try it, or bring me another leg of lamb and promise to murmur blandishments and I’ll make it for you.

Lamb Lamb Olla

The meat is prepared two ways, so that part of the name is no accident. We were planning to cook it in clay, which I’d recommend, but the quantity exceeded our olla’s capacity, so it ended up in a traditional roasting pan.

We were inspired by a Moroccan tagine preparation, hence the apricots and a seasoning called ras-el-hanout that you should be able to find in a specialty store or online – or make your own. I use a meat grinder attached to my stand mixer, which becomes a sausage extruder when I put a phallic attachment on its end.

I don’t mess too much with exact quantities when cooking a dish like this, and you should free yourself from those constraints. Season, taste – you know the drill.

Ingredients:

1 10-lb. leg of lamb
Apricots (dried)
Onion
Carrots
Celery
Leeks
Garlic
Red wine
Sausage casings
Ras-el-hanout
Tomato paste
Rosemary leaves
Fennel seed
Sage (ground)
Oregano
Paprika
Hot pepper flakes
Salt and pepper

Equipment:

Boning knife
Chef’s knife
Large cast-iron skillet
Roasting pot (clay preferred)
Meat grinder
Sausage extruder

Procedure:

Remove the meat from the lamb bone. Make three piles of meat product. One contains the outer layer of fat and the stringy meat bits. The second is meat that will be cubed for the stew. If the first two piles aren’t about equal, move some of pile two to pile one. The third one is for gristle.

Roast the bone at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes. Place the bone in a stockpot, cover with water, and add a sliced onion (skin on), a couple of carrots and a couple of celery ribs. Throw in some peppercorns and oregano. Throw in the gristle. Simmer for at least 90 minutes. Strain.

Cube the meat for cubing. Dust it with ras-el-hanout and salt and pepper.

Thoroughly rinse a couple of sausage casings, inside and out. Set aside in a bowl of water.

Run the fat and stringy meat bits through the meat grinder. If you have a choice of hole sizes, go large. (I’ve never used the small one.) Season this mixture with salt and pepper (it needs lots of both), minced garlic, rosemary, sage, fennel seeds, paprika, and hot pepper flakes. Set up the sausage extruder and make as many links as there is meat mixture.

Sautée chopped garlic and coarsely chopped onion in a cast-iron skillet; add the chopped leeks, carrots, and celery. When the items are starting to get a bit limp, scrape them into the roasting pot. Brown the meat cubes in as many batches as fit comfortably on the bottom of the skillet; transfer each done batch to the roasting pot. Deglaze the skillet with red wine and add it to the mixture. Brown the sausage links. Cut the tied ends off, and slice the links to a size similar to the meat cubes. Add it to the mixture. Halve an appropriate amount of dried apricots. You know where it goes. Add liquid until it’s halfway up the level of the meat and vegetables. (Note: You can use your lamb stock alongside or instead of the wine; in a pinch, you can use water.) Stir in a can of tomato paste. Season with rosemary, oregano, salt, and pepper.

Roast in a 350-degree oven for about three hours, or until the lamb chunks turn tender. There will  be a period before that when they seem depressingly tough, but it’s only a phase they go through until the tenderness sets in. Check the brew halfway through; if it doesn’t seem thick enough, add another can of tomato paste.

It’s a rich enough dish to need little more than a good spring salad alongside, although I wouldn’t turn down some buttery mashed potatoes.

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