Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Lamb Stew with Spring Vegetables (Page 506)

RECIPE #971

  • Date: Tuesday, March 10, 2009 -- 8pm
  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • Kitchen: My Apartment
  • Dining Companion: Matty
  • Recipe Rating: B

This recipe came off the list generated by the random number generator. Making this lamb stew was quite an experience. It all started with my trip to the butcher shop. Now any reputable butcher shop (or grocery store meat counter) will sell something labeled Lamb Stew Meat. This meat is boneless. It's also cut in stew-sized pieces. It is ideal for making, say, a stew. Now, this recipe is a stew so I figured stew meat would be the way to go. But The Book specifically instructs not to use leg of lamb in this recipe. I had my fingers crossed that the stew meat at the butcher shop would be lamb shoulder, but I knew better. I figured it would be leg of lamb, and it was. So I asked,
"Do you have any boneless lamb shoulder?"
And the butcher-man said, "I've only got lamb shoulder with the bone in. What are you going to do with it?"
I responded, "I'm going to make a lamb stew."
"Ah. I would recommend you use the lamb stew meat. It's much cheaper, and works really well for stew."
"No," I insisted, "I really need lamb shoulder."
He gave me a look like I was insane and went to cut me some lamb shoulder. And frankly, it was crazy. At the end of the day I needed stew-sized chunks of lamb meat. The cheaper option was to buy such pieces of meat, already perfectly cut for me. The other option was to pay significantly more, and battle with boning and chunking the meat myself. Now, not only did this huge hunk of meat have bones in it, it was also frozen. "No problem," I thought. It's often easier to cut frozen meat so I figured it might make my butchering task easier.

Fast forward a bit and I am back home, standing in front of a cutting board, with a HUGE hunk of frozen meat in front of me, knife in hand. I wouldn't describe the next 30 minutes as the most miserable culinary experience of my life, but it was up there. For one thing, that thing had bones in places I didn't expect them. It's hard for me to orient myself in a piece of meat that big, and I lost all connection with the anatomy of the animal. So there I was hacking away, and my hands were cold. Very, very cold. My knives are dull so I had to push quite hard, which meant that not only were my hands frozen but they were getting blisters. It was miserable. And the whole time I thought, "I should have just listened to the butcher." I feel obligated not to disobey The Book though, or else my feedback doesn't accurately represent the recipe. But in this case... I might have made an exception had I known how miserable I would be with my frozen achy fingers and the ginormous cut of meat.

Eventually, I finished (not soon enough!), and went on with the recipe. I browned the lamb then removed it from the pot and cooked onion and garlic, then added beef stock, white wine, the lamb, and a bouquet garni of parsley, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, and peppercorns, and braised for an hour and a half. While that was braising, I went on. Now imagine, with the mood I was in, how delighted I was to find that the next step was blanching and peeling a whole crapload of cursed pearl onions. I admit, pearl onions put me in a bad mood anyway -- they requre so much work and they just aren't that good. But I was already crabby at this recipe, and that just made me crabbier. I did it though, the blanching and peeling. I also cooked turnips, carrots, zucchini, and sugar snap peas, all in separate batches. When the lamb was done I thickened the sauce with a beurre manie (mixture of flour and butter) and then I added all the vegetables and seasoned.

After all that trauma I would be delighted to declare this stew was bad -- but it wasn't. The lamb was perfectly tender (so maybe using shoulder paid off after all...), and the vegetables were nicely cooked. Having all those blanched spring veggies in a stew seemed odd to me though. This stew had the property that it did not reheat well, which is very uncharacteristic for slow-cooked food. But it had to do with the fact that although the lamb was slow-cooked, the veggies weren't. The flavors were nice though and I certainly enjoyed eating it. Plus I learned a valuable lesson: it's a good idea to listen to the butcher!

Here is the recipe.

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