Wednesday, April 10, 2013

winning at lamb

So here's the deal. I am not a fan of lamb. Gasp, a food lover that doesn't like lamb?! Well, that was until yesterday. Sure, I've somewhat enjoyed some lamb here and there. It was mostly spiced so heavily that any hint of lamb was completely lost. It could have been beef for all I know. But leg of lamb? Hells no. I've honestly only ever cooked lamb twice: once planting on my birthday of all days and again recently as Vietnamese lamb sliders. I ate neither. Then these bad boys showed up from Nordic Ware, one of the sponsors of the Food Bloggers of Canada Conference this coming weekend.

How I got this lucky, I'll never know. While I already made some stuffing in the Dutch Oven, the braising pan got me thinking. Could I learn to love lamb if I braised it? I remember having a tasty bite of Brent's braised lamb at Chives and, while I probably wouldn't have eaten the whole dish, the braising toned down the strong lamby taste. Challenge accepted. So, this past Saturday, we decided to head down to the old market and visit the Lamb Man himself, Mr. Bill Wood of Wood N' Hart Farm. Yes, the same lamb guy that supplies Chives and so many other great local lovin' restos. Can I just say how incredible is it that I can go to the market and chat with the farmer himself before buying amazingly fresh local lamb. This is the food system we need to revert back to. Simple, local, delicious. After much discussion about my lamb aversion, we opted for a shoulder roast then headed upstairs to visit Hutton Farm for our weekly produce.

Generally, meats are slow braised with aromatics like carrots, onions, celery, garlic, and herbs and a liquid consisting of stock and usually red wine but that French Bordeaux on the mantle is going in someone's belly another way. After a little internet search including this mouth watering recipe by UK Chef Tom Aikens, I found my inspiration and went for it. Using mostly local veggies, homemade stocks, and an espresso balsamic from the locally owned Liquid Gold Olive Oil Tasting Bar, I took on lamb and won.

Espresso Balsamic Braised Lamb Shoulder

1 1/2 lb lamb shoulder
1 tbsp olive oil
2 celery stalks
2 onions
2 carrots
6 cloves garlic
2-3 stalks fresh rosemary
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup duck stock (this was actually smoked duck stock!)
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 bay leaves
handful fresh thyme
ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 275. Heat the oil in the braising pan over medium high heat. Season the lamb all over with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Score the fat on the shoulder. Sear the lamb on all sides til browned. Remove from pan. Add in vegetables and three whole cloves of garlic and saute a few minutes. Meanwhile, smash the rosemary sprigs with the 3 remaining cloves of garlic in a mortar and pestle. Rub into the scored fat, pushing it into the cuts. Return to the pan. Add in the remaining ingredients.

Cover and bake for approximately 2 1/2 -3 hours or until the lamb is tender and falling apart. Feel free to give it a baste here and there although the Nordic Ware with its self basting lid kept all that moisture right where I wanted it. Now you're going to want to save all that amazing sauce so remove the lamb from the pan and drain, reserving the sauce. Return to the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened and reduced by half.

To serve, pull apart the lamb and mix with the reduction. We served ours over some local potatoes mashed with mascarpone and green onions but it'd be great over pasta or risotto or anything for that matter. I'm pretty sure we're making the leftovers into a pizza tonight with figs, spiced tomato sauce, and pistachios. Checkmate.

And did I mention the braising pan with it's non stick coating was a breeze to clean? Nordic Ware Pro Cast, I love you. And lamb, apparently, I love you too because I couldn't get enough of this. I almost didn't want to share. I'm not saying I'm ready for a roasted leg of lamb but Bill Wood you've got yourself some new loyal customers. Brent couldn't be happier.