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.

 

 

Meaty, Beaty, Big And Bouncy

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On a weekend when I’m not working, I love to spend time in the kitchen coming up with a slow-cooked stew or casserole. Something with a bit of improv behind it. Jazz cooking. If it uses up some bits and bobs that are looking a bit sad in the fridge, then so much the better. Yesterday’s pot of love was a fine example of the form, so I thought I should share.

Start off with some chunked-up chorizo and lamb mince in a hot pan. I always use my deep saute pan for this sort of thing. It’s got a lid, and the all-metal build means it’ll happily go in the oven. We bought it with some of our wedding money, and it shows no signs of tiredness. Unlike it’s owner. I digress.

The chorizo and lamb will exude their own oil, so once they’re hot and sizzling, decant them to a warm bowl and use that paprika-spiked bounty to cook the veg. In this case, the cajun trinity of onion, celery and green pepper. I usually add some carrots to this as well. Give it five minutes. If you don’t have a beer or a glass of wine in hand by now, go pour yourself one. You’ve done some chopping. You deserve it.

Once the veg have softened a bit and taken on some colour, throw the meat back in, along with a couple of cloves of garlic and the slightly over-done sausage that was left over from breakfast. Let everything get acquainted. Now add a can of mixed beans (usually called three-bean salad or something like that) that’s been drained. After that, tomatoes. A good and lazy tip is to use a posh tomatoey pasta sauce instead. Most of the TV chefs do them, and they’re a good storecupboard standby. The supermarket/ Finest/Best/Taste The Difference ranges are all worth exploring too. I used one with cherry tomatoes and a hint of chilli. It was a very subtle hint. Too subtle for my liking, so I threw in a couple of my dried chilis, pierced but otherwise left whole so I could fish them out when everything was singing from the same hymn sheet.

The mix is smelling great, but it’s pretty dry, so I let it down with some chicken stock. I make my own, but a stock cube is fine. Just watch the salt. About half a pint, I reckon. Hard to tell. It was in a ziploc bag. Enough to cover the meat and veg, anyway.

Let that bubble gently for half an hour with the lid on, then half an hour with the lid off until the stew has thickened to your liking. Taste a few times along the way, and season as you feel the need. Keep an eye on those chilis. Crank up the music. Have another glass. If the weather’s anything like it was yesterday, watch the rain hammering the roof of the conservatory, and listen to the thunder.

When your stew is thick and glossy and delicious looking, fish out the chilis and serve over rice, and a freezer-burned peshwari naan if one happens to be kicking around. TLC thinks they’d be nice with some fruit and yoghurt, and who am I to argue with a girl that’s officially twice as smart as I am? I should have garnished it with some lovage from the herb patch, but buggered if I was going out in that weather.

If you’re lucky, clever and not too greedy, there’s enough stew left over for your dinner tomorrow too. Sometimes, improv is the way to go.

The soundtrack for the meal should really be the OST to season one of Treme. Lots of groovy N’Awlins jazziness. Perfect when you’re cooking up a storm. Or in a storm.