Friday, April 3, 2015

Recipe of the month: Navarin d'agneau printanier

Lamb.  You either love it or you hate it.
     But I’m ready to bet that if you hate it, you’ve probably only had it over-boiled and served up with mint sauce.  So here’s a chance to try it à la française.
Mont Saint Michel's prés salés
     The French are very proud of their lamb.  And rightly so.  There’s little as delicious and succulent as a lamb who’s been fed on the prés salés, the salt meadows around Mont St. Michel that are under seawater when the tide is high, giving them a delicate, built-in and all-natural saltiness.
     Some of the best I’ve ever eaten was a leg or shoulder of lamb with cloves of garlic tucked into little incisions and then oven-roasted until the skin was golden and crisp.  And then there’s méchoui - a whole lamb on a spit over a fire pit that is slow-roasted all day, al fresco, a tradition repatriated from the ex-French colonies of North Africa and which I enjoyed recently on a trip to Cuba.
     This year Easter falls conveniently in April.  So let’s prepare one of France’s Easter favorites:  lamb with new spring vegetables.  If you’re Christian, this will work in perfectly with the concept of The Lamb of God.  If you’re not, it’s just a spring dish of wonderful things that are at their prime in this season.

  • 3 lb shoulder or neck of lamb cut into large pieces, with bones
  • 2 large onions
  • 4 garlic cloves 
  • a large sprig or two of fresh rosemary (or 1 t dried rosemary)
  • bay leaf
  • salt & freshly ground pepper.
  • ½ bottle of light red wine
  • 6 young carrots, cut in half
  • 6 small young turnips, cut in half
  • 12 spring onions
  • 8-12 tiny new potatoes, washed but not peeled
  • 2 good handfuls (½ c) of fresh shelled peas

Ask the butcher to cut the lamb into 2-3 inch pieces.  Some bones can be left to add to the taste.
- In a skillet, sauté the lamb pieces in ½ butter ½ olive oil until they are well-browned on all sides.
- Put the l
amb into a large stew pot or Dutch oven and sauté the onion in the same pan you used for the lamb.
- When the onion is translucent, add in the whole cloves of garlic, letting them cook for just a minute or two.  (Garlic contains a lot of sugar and it burns very quickly.)
- Put the onion and garlic into the Dutch oven with the lamb.
- Add just enough of the wine to cook off the drippings from the bottom of pan.  These will add lots of flavor to the stew.  Pour the gravy over the lamb and vegetables in the Dutch oven.
- Add the rosemary and bay leaf, plus some sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  Pour in the rest of the wine, cover and let simmer for 1 to 1 1/4 hour.  If the liquid is getting low, add a bit more wine, as needed.  (Remember:  the alcohol will cook off, so this dish is fine for children.)
- When the meat is almost done, put the spring onions, carrots, turnips and potatoes into a separate pan and brown them for 10-15 minutes in ½ butter ½ olive oil.
- Blanch the peas in boiling salted water for 5 minutes.  Drain them well.  (If you do this ahead of time, be sure to leave them in the colander under cold running water for 2-3 minutes to stop the cooking and keep the peas bright green.  Then you can set them aside until you’re ready for them.)
- Add the vegetables and the peas on top of the meat and let them steam for about 10 minutes.
- Arrange the meat on a platter and decorate with a few sprigs of curly parsley.  Serve the vegetables in a large tureen or other deep serving dish.
- You can strain the gravy if you want, but personally I like those little crunchy bits.  Pour it over the meat or the vegetables or both... or serve it separately.
Serves 6.

If you want to make this more of a provençal dish, just after you’ve sautéed the onion, add some fresh tomatoes, skinned, seeds squeezed out, and the tomato “meat” cut into 8.
     If you can’t find spring vegetables, you can always use bigger ones cut into pieces.  And frozen peas can be substituted, if necessary.
     If you’re pressed for time, you can make the stew part ahead of time and just heat it up while you’re browning the vegetables.
     The perfect wine with “the delicate flavor of young spring lamb”, according to Julia Child, would be a Bordeaux-Médoc.  Pick a good year.

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