lamb


Lamb’s one of my favorite meats, and (life often being unfair), it’s also one of the most expensive. I managed to get a good deal on a 3 lb leg of lamb, and spent the weekend coming up with ways to use it. Fortunately, lamb’s a popular meat in many cultures. Can you get any more separated than China and Wales?

My first experiment comes from Ken Hom’s A Taste of China: The Definitive Guide to Regional Cooking. I’d been wanting to pick up this book for a while; Ken Hom shows up in one chapter of Garlic and Sapphires and I was interested to see what his cookbook was like. I finally got my chance during a conference in Bethlehem, PA where I found it sitting neglected on the shelf at the Moravian Book Shop. There are a lot of interesting things to try in it, but this one really caught my attention – I’d never even considered steaming lamb before.

Lamb Steamed With Spice-Flavored Cornmeal (from A Taste of China: The Definitive Guide to Regional Cooking)

  • 2 and 1/2 oz yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tsp five-spice powder
  • 2 tsp ground roasted Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 lb lean lamb
  • 3 tsp green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tbs rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tbs light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Combine cornmeal, five spice powder, ground Sichuan peppercorns, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Mix and set aside.

Cut lamb into thin strips (about 1/4 inches thick by 3 inches long) and combine with onions, garlic, ginger, wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

Coat lamb pieces with cornmeal mixture and gently steam over medium heat for 30 minutes.

This is a good recipe to use on odds and ends of lamb you might have left over, since the steaming softens them nicely. It pays to watch the amount of Sichuan peppercorns you use: they’ve got a strong flavor and they can easily overwhelm the lamb, which comes out mild and sweet. We had ours with some dumplings and dandan noodle.

Steamed Lamb With Spiced Cornmeal

Steamed Lamb With Spiced Cornmeal

My second project is from another castoff from the PA Renaissance Faire: Salmon Publishing’s Favourite Welsh Recipes. This is actually part of a three-pamphlet set: one for England, one for Scotland, and one for Wales. All have worthwhile recipes. Here in the US, we often don’t remember that Wales has a distinct cultural identity as vibrant as that of Scotland or Ireland, and as a West Coast boy raised in the shadow of the Cascades, I found its rugged landscape to boast some of the best sightseeing in the UK (especially Snowdonia). Not only that but it’s a great place for a military history buff, with plenty of well preserved castles, built by Edward I when he “added” Wales to the Kingdom of England (at Caernarvon you get a castle AND a Roman fort), and the regimental museum of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, among whose items is an officer’s coat worn at Bunker Hill in 1775.

All that rugged terrain makes for some tasty lamb (even celebrity chef and general know-it-all Dr. William Kitchiner mentions it in his 1830 magnum opus The Cook’s Oracle). When you combine it with leeks and barley, you get a good solid working class meal.

Monmouth Stew (from Favourite Welsh Recipes)

  • 1 and 1/2 lbs lamb
  • 1/8 cup flour
  • 4-6 leeks (white parts only) washed and cut into rings
  • 1/4 cup pearl barley
  • 4 sprigs parsley, 1 sprig thyme, and 1 bay leaf tied together
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 pint lamb stock
  • butter or oil for frying

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat lamb in seasoned flour and fry in butter or oil for one minute. Add leeks, fry for 1 more minute, and then transfer everything to a casserole dish. Add barley, herbs, and seasoning. Pour stock over all. Cover, bring to the boil, and cook in oven for about 2 hours. Remove herbs before serving.

I found that this is an excellent crock pot recipe. Just pop all the ingredients in and let it cook all day while you get on with your life. It also tastes even better the second day, as Cat’s envious coworkers can attest.

Monmouth Stew

Monmouth Stew

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.