On Sunday I decided to do a little 18th Century-style cooking and try my hand at making Gigot en Croute. This recipe is actually alive and well in modern French cooking, but has its origin in the 17th-18th century shift away from whole joints of meat and towards modern style off-the-bone recipes (or “made dishes” as they were referred to at the time). Gigot en Croute is basically a stuffed leg of lamb with a pastry crust.

The first step on this is to make the stuffing: minced veal, mushrooms, rosemary, thyme, kidney suet, and a shot of brandy. I sadly had to compromise here, since my librarian’s salary allowed me to have either leg of lamb or veal but not both. I used pork instead, as it’s a similarly mild-flavored meat. I also had to use shortening instead of suet, since I have yet to locate a good butcher in my area. Of course if I ever have to do this for an event, I’ll get my hands on the real stuff.

So once that was done, I unrolled the leg of lamb, skewered it up to make a pocket, stuffed it, and stuck it in the oven for about an hour at 425 degrees. After that, I had this:

Gigot pre-croute

Looks good already! But now comes the decorative flourish that gives it style: a pastry crust. Actually, the crust’s more than just decoration. The pastry seals off the meat as it cooks, effectively steaming it while it roasts and making it more tender. For authenticity you can make your own with wheat flour (bleached white modern flour being unknown in 1775), or you can cheat like me and use frozen puff paste.

Gigot with pre-baked croute

As you can see, I got a little artsy. Any reasonably competent 18th Century pastry chef would have me beaten with rods, but what I lacked in skill I made up in patriotism by marking my Gigot en Croute with the Royal Cypher. Perfect for the officers’ mess! So…brush with egg and stick it back in at 450 for about 15 minutes.

Gigot en Croute complete!  

There it is…not artistry, but not bad for a first try! But there’s only one real way to tell how it is…carve it:

Carved and ready!

Just slightly pink…perfect!

We had this with some mushroom wine sauce and some very 20th Century Uncle Ben’s. Historical accuracy aside, I love wild rice with lamb. In the 18th Century you might see this with boiled or fried potatoes, or possibly even rice and almonds.

Dinner is served!

Interested in making it yourself? I got this recipe from Lobscouse and Spotted Dog: Which It’s A Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin novels. It’s got a lot of good recipes and interesting information on 18th Century cuisine and is a good gateway book to more hardcore historical cooking.

Forcemeat

  • 2 tsp butter
  • 1/2 lb mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 lb veal, finely minced
  • 1/4 lb suet, finely grated (use shortening as a last resort)
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbs brandy
  • 1 tbs chopped rosemary
  • 2 tbs fresh thyme leaves
  • salt and pepper

Melt butter and saute mushrooms until they give up liquid. Combine egg with mushrooms and rest of ingredients.

Gigot en Croute

  • half leg of lamb, 5-6 lbs
  • 1 tbs butter, melted
  • 1 lb puff paste (make your own or use commercial)
  • 1/2 tsp water
  • 1/2 egg, beaten
  • 1 recipe worth of forcemeat

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bone and trim lamb. Sew or skewer edges of meat together to make a pocket for the forcemeat. Fill pocket with forcemeat and sew or skewer shut. Place meat on rack in a roasting pan, brush with melted butter, and roast about 1 hour.

Remove roast from oven and let cool on a platter about 30 minutes. Set oven to 450 degrees and roll out puff paste (if necessary) until about 1/4 inch thick. Remove skewers or stitches from meat and lay sheet of puf paste over the roast, tucking under the edges but leaving the bottom exposed. Trim excess pastry.

Mix egg with 1/2 tsp of water and brush over pastry. You can also make decorative shapes with the pastry scraps and fix them in place with the egg wash.

Return lamb to rack and place in oven. Bake for 20 minutes, reduce heat to 400 degrees, and bake for an additional 15 minutes or so.

Remove pan from oven and let sit and drain about 10 minutes. Transfer gigot to a warm platter and serve with pan juices or other sauce. 

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