Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Braised Lamb Shoulder with Herbs & Flageolets with White Balsamic & Mint

The first time I had pasture-raised Mediterranean lamb, I was in Provence, near Carpentras. The restaurant, nestled at the foot of Mont Ventoux, had left the lamb blissfully unadorned, simply rubbing the meat with garlic, olive oil and sea salt and then braising it in a little white wine. The result was aromatic, perfect, burnished a rich brown. But the flavor was surprisingly complex. When I asked which herbs had been used, the answer was "Pas un." Not one. Why then could I taste so many? Thyme and rosemary were particularly perceptible. “Of course,” came the reply. “C'est que l'agneau a mangé.” That's what the lamb ate.

Since then I’ve had lamb prepared just as simply all along the northern Mediterranean, and I’m unfailingly delighted by the variation in flavor from region to region, sometimes even from town to town. What might have been redolent with wild fennel in Andalusia, has been musky and floral with oregano and marjoram in the Greek islands, or peppery with young garlic and chives in Piemonte. It’s something I can’t help but try to replicate at home. Though I get beautiful lamb at the greenmarket, the natural infusion of indigenous wild herbs is tough to come by.

This dish is inspired by that first experience in Provence, and it comes pretty close to the mark actually. The classic pairing for braised lamb, particularly in France, is earthily creamy flageolets beans. They’re rare in the States, but navy beans make a fine substitute. With lamb I like my beans flecked with mint and gently dressed in white balsamic vinegar, a welcome twang against the richness of the meat. And don't forget to serve the wine-sweet garlic cloves in their paper alongside the lamb too.

When Easter falls late, as it has this year, I pounce on the chance to have this with the season’s first asparagus, roasted in olive oil and showered with lemon juice and good sea salt. Expect to be ravenous by the time it all finishes cooking - the aroma from the oven is particularly tempting.

Joyeuses Pâques!

Serves 4

1 4lb (1.8 kg) bone in lamb shoulder
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 – 3 stalks fresh rosemary
small handful fresh thyme sprigs
4 cloves of garlic, plus one head of garlic
2 bay leaves, fresh if possible
½ bottle white wine
1 lb (½ kg) dried flageolets beans (navy beans or any other very small white bean are fine)
3 – 4 shallots, peeled and sliced into half moons
hot chicken or vegetable stock
small handful fresh mint leaves
white balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 325 F (170 C, gas mark 3)

Rinse and pat dry your lamb. Use a small pairing knife to pierce holes here and there. Rub the lamb all over with olive oil and then season generously with salt and pepper, being sure to work the seasoning into the holes. Next push stalks of rosemary and thyme into the holes. Crush and peel the 4 extra garlic cloves and work pieces of those in too. Place the lamb in a heavy, ovenproof pot. Separate the cloves from the full head of garlic, but do not peel. Put them in the pot in their paper with the bay leaves and the wine. Cover and bake in the center of the oven for 4 hours, checking occasionally to be sure the pot isn’t dry. You may top up with more wine if necessary.

Meanwhile pour your beans onto a baking sheet or table and rake through to pick out any stones or discolored beans. Place the beans in a colander and rinse thoroughly under cold, running water. Place the beans in a very large, heavy-bottomed casserole and cover with lots of cold water. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring often and skimming off any foam with a large spoon. Boil for 2 minutes and then drain, rinsing the beans again thoroughly under cold, running water. Give the large casserole a quick rinse too. Pour the beans back into the pot and cover with cold water. Soak off the heat for 1 hour, then drain and rinse the beans.

Heat the pot over medium heat and add some olive oil. Brown your shallots gently, turning occasionally. Add the beans and cover generously with hot stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to a very gentle simmer, and cook partially covered for 1 hour or until tender but not falling apart, skimming off any foam or scum that rises to the surface and topping up with boiling water or stock whenever necessary to keep the beans well covered.

Drain the beans, return to the pot, and season generously with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. Just before serving, dress with a good glug of white balsamic vinegar to taste, add more salt or pepper if necessary, and then roll up the mint leaves like a cigar and slice or chiffonade as thinly as possible. Toss the mint into the beans and serve alongside the lamb, which should be tender enough to pull apart rather than carve, and don't forget the garlic cloves in their paper, which make a wonderful accompaniment to the meat.


Dolly said...

I love this! What a great blog. Pia turned me your way, and I'm so glad I found you.

Sylvia said...

I love food with "personality", that leads you to these amazing places, which are in essence simple, but tasty at all. Excellent recipe Amanda

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Dolly, so glad you found me and like the blog! Thank you!

Sylvia, I love simple too. I love that about your food too. So glad you like Sylvia x

Toffeeapple said...

You've done it again, revived a memory of Provence and the food eaten there, thank you.

Bruce @ La Cave said...

The mint and balsamic with the lamb are interesting. They remind me of a British mint sauce.

Lucy said...

think i'm gonna have a go with this in my brick oven this weekend; i've an old dutch oven and if i pick my timings correctly...will report back.

lambs eating herb-age...makes me want to walk down the road and offer up all the little rosemary plants i've just propagated to the sheep farmers in our neighbourhood! imagine it...wonderful celebratory post. happy easter break! xx

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Toffeeapple, thank you. That's a lovely thing to say. Now how to plot my next trip?

Bruce, yes! I am not a mint jelly girl at all. My mother makes a lovely mint sauce with fresh mint and vinegar. I find it addictive - I'm sure that worked its way in here with the beans.

Lucy, I am yet again overwrought with envy. Tell me what happens. Happy Easter my dear. xo

Barbara said...

This is my favourite way to cook lamb. Just garlic and rosemary. Have never served beans with it, but need to try it.

JIllian said...

Carpentras is one of my favourite places on earth. Thanks for the memories.

Sarah said...

This sounds like a particularly perfect Easter meal. My mouth waters at the thought of those pasture raised lambs!

Anonymous said...

I'm vegetarian, but I'd make these beans alone. The mint sounds so good.


Jenn @leftoverqueen said...

This looks beautiful Amanda!

"“C'est que l'agneau a mangé.” - it is so true - even milk tastes different in different seasons based on what the cows are eating!

I am glad you were able to recreate that first, delicious time! Not an easy thing to do.

Farmgirl Susan said...

This looks so good! That's really interesting about the flavor of the meat, and totally makes sense. I definitely need to start feeding herbs to our sheep. ;)

Chez Loulou said...

This looks divine! I always cook gigot d'agneau, rarely the shoulder. Thanks for the inspiration.

Gloria said...

Look wonderful, Amanda I love this recipe, have a wonderful Easter dear Amanda, gloria

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Barbara, it is such a good flavor combination, isn’t it. It almost starts to smell good before the lamb’s even in the oven.

Jillian, it’s one of the best parts of the world there is, isn’t it? So glad you like.

Sarah, the flavor is so different it’s remarkable. I’ve actually had great lamb like that in Barcelona too!

Alix, the beans do stand alone I agree! I always hope for leftovers. Enjoy.

Jenn, the milk’s just getting good, right? Well maybe not so far north yet, but I taste a difference down by us.

Susan, it would be a good experiment. I want to hear about it…

Loulou, I always did the gigot too. I still love it! But this shoulder makes the house smell especially divine for some reason.

Gloria, Happy Easter! I hope you have a great time.

Katie K said...

My husband Eric told me about your blog and I've got to say it looks really great. I look forward to cooking your recipes.

Alice Reed said...

I love getting new and healthy recipes for me and my family. Thank you!

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Katie, I'm so glad you found the blog, and welcome! You have a terribly nice husband, and I hope I get to meet you sometime soon too!

Alice, I hope you all enjoy the lamb!

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