Thursday, November 24, 2011

Seven hour slow cooked lamb

7 hour leg of lamb. Photo by Steve Shanahan
First published Canberra Times 23 November 2011. 
One of the delights of spring is the tender, sweet lamb meat available from markets and good butchers around Canberra. Many of the good lamb producers are breeding especially for meat, with the milk-fed lamb market now targeted towards restaurant menus.
Unlike Europe, Australian lamb is classified by the emergence of teeth. When a lamb starts losing its baby teeth it becomes hogget and after about two years it becomes mutton.
Although there is nothing like sweet and tender spring lamb, lightly cooked and still pink, I’m also partial to the deep, full flavour of mutton, especially when cooked in a home-style slow roasted way.
For lunch at our restaurant, we often cooked wood-fired roast lamb topped with anchovies, layered top and bottom with branches of rosemary and studded with garlic.  When cooking lamb or mutton on the bone, make small slits in the meat along the bone and stuff with garlic slivers or herbs. This is a great way of enhancing the flavour of the meat.
For my version of slow cooked lamb, I use mutton or hogget as the more intense flavour works well in this dish. If making this for a summer meal, I serve it with spring vegetables such as peas, broadbeans, butter beans and small chat potatoes. For  winter, I serve it with more robust vegetables such as, swedes, carrots, onions and potatoes. 
If serving it with lighter vegetables, add them later in the cooking process so they retain their structure, and you don’t end up with a mushy mess at the bottom of the cooking pot.
Because this dish takes seven hours to cook, when served, it is so meltingly tender it just falls away from the bone, creating the most beautiful and deceptively simple meal. To ensure the meat doesn’t fall apart during cooking, make sure you tie the meat well with kitchen string before it goes into the pot.
I made this classic French dish again for a recent gathering of friends and as always, is a hit for it’s intense flavours. It’s perfect for group catering as it will survive the rigours of a party with much of the preparation done early in the day ready for the evening. This quantity easily serves eight people.
a leg of mature lamb or mutton (or you can use a regular leg of lamb)
3 large garlic cloves, cut into slivers for inserting along the bone
a bunch each of rosemary and thyme and 6 bay leaves, tied together
salt and pepper
4 litres of water
3 carrots
3 leeks
2 cups of peas
2 cups of beans
3 onions
12 garlic cloves, chopped
Preheat the oven to 140C. Trim the lamb of excess fat and insert the slivers of garlic into the meat by first poking small holes in the outside along the bone. Tie the meat tightly with string and place in a large deep pot, with enough water to cover three quarters of the depth of the meat.
Bring the water to a boil and skim the scum off the top.
Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven, and cook it for 2 hours. Keep the meat poaching gently, making sure it doesn’t boil and turn the oven down if needed. After 3 hours, turn the meat over carefully and continue cooking for another 2 hours. Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables, trim, peel and cut the peas and beans and chop the peeled onions, carrots and leeks into 1 centimetre slices. Mix all the vegetables with the chopped  garlic.
Lift out the meat, add the vegetables and herbs and replace the meat on the top. You may need to add more water so the meat is half covered. Replace the lid and continue cooking until the meat is very tender for 1 to 1 ½ hours longer.
Remove the meat to a warm place and cover it loosely with foil. If the vegetables are not very tender, continue simmering them, uncovered, on top of the stove until they almost collapse. Transfer them with a slotted spoon to a deep platter, throwing away the tied herbs. Increase the heat so the cooking liquid boils and reduces to an intense flavour.
Remove the meat to a platter and remove the strings from the lamb. Cover with foil and return to the warm oven. Continue reducing the cooking liquid to a concentrated sauce to be served as a gravy. Taste for seasoning, and serve it alongside the lamb and vegetables. The lamb can be served with a spoon as it will just fall apart.