Monday, January 31, 2011

Sunday Supper Series #4: Braised Lamb in the Style of Pontaubert

Last night our friend Jen joined us for supper. MP stalled things a bit by slicing her pad open on our evening run. She is bandaged up tight, but had to go to the vet tonight for three stitches, as it is a rather deep cut. 
But, onward to dinner.
Menu: Braised lamb in the style of Pontaubert, red cabbage au gratin, broccoli, salad, fresh bread.

When we were in France last October, we spent the night in the small Burgundian village of Pontaubert. Our little two-star hotel had a restaurant that served a wicked dinner. I had a lamb shank, braised in white wine with carrots and potatoes. It was wonderful and I wondered why I had never braised lamb before (I always roast my lamb). Upon querying my Mom, I learned that we never braised lamb because the smell of braising lamb was deemed unpleasant by some in our family.
But memories of my recent dining experience in France overcame any olfactory concerns I may have had, and coupled with the fact that a recent issue of Saveur magazine contained a recipe for braised leg of lamb, I decided to give it a try. It turned out to be easier than I thought and not particularly stinky.
While heating the broiler to high, I put the leg into a roasting dish and liberally salted and peppered it up. I put it under the broiler for about 10 minutes, keeping a close eye on it to ensure that it didn’t char. While it broiled, I cut up a bunch of carrots, a leek and an onion. I washed a bunch of small potatoes and crushed the cloves of an entire head of garlic, the latter of which I can still smell on my hands today.
After about 10 minutes I flipped the lamb leg over and let the other side brown. When both sides were browned, I took it out of the oven, turned the oven to bake at 325 and threw all the veggies into the roasting pan. To this I added fresh thyme and rosemary, as well as bay leaves, salt and pepper. I then poured two cups of wine and three cups of chicken stock over it, covered it with foil and forgot about it for two hours. At that point, I opened it up, flipped it over and put it back in for another 2 ½ hours. Then, when a knife went through it like a fine needle through silk, I took it out. I took out the veggies and put them into a separate dish and put the juices through the fat separator. I made a roux-based gravy with this, although it would have been just as good, and more like what I had in Pontaubert, as simple au jus.
Here is what it looked like after it was browned, but before it was braised.

And here is what it looked like after everything was done.

It being winter, our windows were all closed and I don’t think it smelled bad. I wonder why this is so. Perhaps the added wine did something to cut the smell. Or perhaps the searing of the meat prior to braising helped. However, it could be that animal husbandry practices have changed since the last remembered lamb-braising event in our family, in the late-1970s. Perhaps something has changed in the way lamb is raised and that this is what makes some lamb taste decidedly un-gamey, and in some cases, un-lambey. And this same change has somehow caused lamb to smell differently as it braises. I don’t know.
I do know that overall while this certainly tasted good, it was a particularly un-gamey and to some extent, un-lambey piece of lamb. It wasn’t a Polyface Farm lamb. I ran out of that and didn’t order another one in time last year. That is the one (minor) downside to buying meat from a family farm as opposed to a supermarket. When they run out of animals, they truly run out until next year’s season. I learned my lesson and will be vigilantly watching for this year’s crop of lambs to be advertised.

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