Bring On The Winter: Garlic shoulder of lamb with potato boulangère

Doco Dom and The Lady Deming have been visiting old haunts in France, and returned with a gift for lucky old me: a big-ass garlic grappe from Lautrec, the town famous for its stinking roses. I was, of course, deeply appreciative, but I was left with a slight problem. Now I have to do the stuff justice.

Garlic is the friendliest stuff with which to cook. The papery coating is the perfect defence against the heat of the oven, and a roasted head of garlic is a brilliant accompaniment to just about any savoury meal. Simply lop the top off, splash over a little oil, and cook for half an hour in a medium oven. The honey-coloured, mellow-flavoured paste that results when you squeeze out the cloves is a delight.

But we can do better than that. Keeping it French, I decided to snag some lamb shoulder, and put together the ideal slow-cooked meal for a lazy Sunday.

 

I'm a recent convert to the ways of the slow-cooked shoulder of beast. It is, to be fair, a dish that requires time. I could get my act together before leaving for work and pop a cut into the slow cooker, I suppose. But really, this is a weekend dish, designed for a bit of kitchen puttering. Particularly if you're smart, and do the potatoes at the same time.

Preheat your oven to 130C, and get on with the lamb. I had a half-kilo lump which will easily serve TLC and I with leftovers. Season it thoroughly, then get garlicking. Skin a whole head of the lovely stuff (it's easiest to bash it with the flat end of a knife or cleaver–the flesh will pop free from the papery husks) and nick off the hard stem. Then make deep incisions into the lamb with a sharp knife, and stuff the cloves into these pockets. Try to make sure they go all the way in. Don't be shy. Shove 'em in there.

Now to the spuds. Potatoes boulangère is the way forward here: layers of potato and onion, moistened with stock and flavoured with the copious fat from the lamb. You need a mandolin to do this properly. No, not the stringed instrument, you fool, the terrifying cross between a knife and a guillotine that has shortened many a chef's finger. Finely slice a couple of onions and four or five big potatoes. And grab some herbs. Thyme is traditional, but rosemary also works brilliantly.

Now to build. You can use a roasting tin, but I find a good deep casserole works just as well. Butter it well first. Pop a layer of potato in the bottom of the pot, then onion, herbs and a grind of salt and pepper. Then repeat, layering spuds, onion, herbs and seasoning until you've reached the top. If you're using Pyrex, then you get to see the result of your labours at the end. Check out this work of art.

 

Then all you do is slosh over a couple of ladlefuls of good stock, pop your lamb on top of everything and shove it in the oven. Then wait, which is probably the hardest bit. Five hours cooking time, slow and low, letting the fat gently render out of the lamb and into the boulangère, giving the garlic time to mellow and soften. Cook it for long enough and the cloves will actually melt into the meat, although I like the notion of squidging the soft garlic around on the plate.

When that five hours is finally done, let the meat rest for twenty minutes, then shred it. If there's a bone on the joint, it should slide free without complaint. Serve the lamb and potatoes with a simply steamed green veg (we had broccoli). You shouldn't need gravy as the boulangère is still quite sloppy. But don't let me stop you from sloshing a little mint sauce on the side.

The whole thing is is rich, herby, rib-sticking. There's nothing harsh about it. Hell, you don't even have to chew that hard. On the day the clocks went back, it was the perfect way to usher in the cooler months.

 

 

A Quiet, Busy Couple Of Weeks

You’ve probably noticed that yet another Update Sunday has gone by with no updates. That is not laziness. It is the problem with any blog that is run as a labour of love rather than as a commercial concern. Life, quite simply, keeps getting in the way.

Allow me to take you through the last couple of weeks. The Great Work takes up all my day-job time and then some, of course. Two weekends ago, we hired a tower and finally tore down the dead ivy that has been disfiguring the side of the house for the last three years. Pics of that mighty task can be found here.

Yes, half of it did come down in one sheet, and yes, it was one of the most satisfying moments of the year. As a sidenote to the endeavour, the new light we’ve put in by the door is so bright that you can see our house from the bottom of the road. Handy for directing cab drivers, although I’m sure we’ll eventually freak one of them out, by pointing them down the road with the cemetery at the end of it and telling them to head towards the light…

Last weekend we were up at the Caravan and Motorhome Show at the NEC in Birmingham, musing on the idea of never paying for a package holiday again and spending some cash on a camper van instead. You can pay silly money of course, and in the midst of the credit crunch it was nice to see the occasional two-bedroom flat on wheels sporting SOLD signs in the windscreen. I think if we’re cautious and do our research, there are bargains to be had. Then of course, there’s all the sights of Britain and continental Europe to be had from our doorway. I for one would be happy never to see the inside of an airport again. And it’s a much greener way of holidaying, of course.

This week has been spent preparing the house for winter. We’ve decorated the main bedroom, shunted round the spare room, got stuff up in the loft, and generally started battening down the hatches, ready for the cold days ahead. That’s a metaphor, by the way. After lugging furniture and slapping paint around all week, I’m at that acceptably knackered stage of proceedings, with just the odd twinge in the lower spine region to tell me maybe putting that last shelf up today might be a bad idea. But the vinyl cubes have arrived, so I can see an enjoyable evening playing with the record deck ahead. Some of the old Husker Du coming out for an airing, I think.

So, in general, adventures in domesticity. I’m content with that. It’s been a very simple week, and I’ve had some time to think and muse, getting in the right frame of mind for Nanowrimo, an open, thoughtful state where ideas can flow freely. I’m really excited about the novel I’ve come up with this year. It’s a fresh new idea that simply landed on me fully formed, and one I feel could go all the way to being properly published. I’m considering putting everything I write for it on the blog as a live experiment. Anyone up for reading unfiltered content?