Roasting a Whole Lamb in the Berkshires – part 2


Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a horrible blogger for making you guys wait so long to see part 2 of the whole lamb roasting adventure. Here’s how it all turned out, and there’s even a video at the bottom:-)

The Menu:

Boudin Noir – sausage made with lamb fat, pork, caramelized onions, lambs blood, bread, cream, and spices.
Whole Roasted Lamb – marinated in yogurt, cumin, celery seed, and other spices, spit-roasted until medium rare.
Sopa de Cabeza – A soup with the head, heart and hooves of the lamb. Spiced with guajillo chiles and and served with cilantro and lime.
Fire roasted Corn
Grilled potatoes, peppers and asparagus
Cous Cous with almonds and raisins

I’ve never been a fan of blood. I don’t like seeing it, I don’t spilling it, and I certainly haven’t enjoyed eating it. This goes for organ meats like liver and heart too. But one of my gastronomic rules is to always try anything I’m offered, and lately I’ve been finding more and more preparations of liver I like.

Earlier this summer, I had a Boudin Noir (black sausage) at Omnivore New York, that has changed my opinion on blood forever. It was rich and decadent, full of depth and flavour, without the chalky minerally taste one might expect from a sausage made of blood. That might be because there’s actually a lot more bread, cream, and caramelized onions in boudin noir than there is blood.

When I found out that we’d be getting the WHOLE lamb, I knew right away that I wanted to use all of it, blood included. I started by caramelizing onions and garlic and soaking bread crumbs in cream. Some extra lamb fat was minced and added along with some pork, salt, brown sugar and spices. This resulted in a stuffing that had the consistency of uncooked meatloaf. To this I started adding blood. Just a little at first, then more and more, until it had the texture of pudding.

I’d initially wanted to stuff all of this into the lamb’s own intestines, but they were tossed out when the lamb was butchered. Luckily, the local market had just gotten some casings in for their own sausages and were nice enough to sell me some of it. The only problem was that we had no sausage stuffer, and I was left filling the casing with a small spoon and my thumb. It was a messy undertaking and pretty soon the prep area started looking like a scene out of True Blood.

Then, Rose, the engineer in the group found a cake decorating kit and suggested I use the syring like “pastry cylinder” to stuff the casing. After this break-though, things sped up and we soon had six crimson links, ready to boil. Since I’d never stuffed my own sausage before, I missed the part about making sure there were no air pockets in the casing (the air expands and pops the casing). We had a few that emptied themselves into the water, but most of them turned out plump and beautiful.

After letting them cool off a bit, they went from an unappetizing grayish color, to a deep chocolatey brown that beckoned me to take the first bite. And what a bite it was! Rich and meaty, without being too salty or greasy, and the bread gave it a pillowy texture that oozed umami with every bite. Despite their initial apprehension, the guests were too polite to refuse my offering, and soon every last morsel had been devoured by hungry guests whom I have to assume had never tried blood sausage before.

Progress with the lamb followed a similar path. Since this was the first time any of us had seen a whole lamb, much less tried to roast one, I knew there would be hiccups. I tried to anticipate as best I could, but there were two problems I failed to foresee.

Tom’s father had a stainless steel pole threaded so we could affix a crank to it. It was a lithe shiny rod of metal that looked perfect, but when it came time to u-bolt the spit to the lamb, the pole proved to be too narrow and too slick. Resulting in a spit that would rotate independently of the lamb. Not so conducive to cooking the lamb evenly. We ended up engineering a solution with some vise grip pliers and wire. Next time, we’re going to have a metal “T” welded to the center of the spit, to prevent the carcass from sliding around on the spit.

The part I thought we’d have the most problems with, turned out to be the simplest. We happend to have an orthopedic surgeon attending, so once he was equipped with some curved upholstery needles and kitchen twine, he set to work masterfully stitching up our gorgeous lamb. Watching him work was truely mesmerizing, and you can see him in action in the video below.

Once we finally got the lamb setup by the fire, we ran into our second problem. We hadn’t built a brick wall to reflect the heat, and stop the wind, so when the wind decided to blow away from the lamb, we weren’t getting enough heat to the meat, and when it blew in the other direction, it got a little too hot. This was mostly solved by moving the coals around and adjusting the height of the spit, but we probably could have eaten a lot sooner if we’d built the fire a little differently.

It was getting late, the sun had gone down, and I was nearly delirious from cooking in a very hot kitchen all day, but I went down to the lamb to check out it’s progress, and was greeted by this stunning roast, complete with a crispy layer of caramelized fat. Satisfied that it was cooked, we hauled the roast back to the farmhouse where I let it rest for a bit before carving it.

It was a lot of work, but with 10 people helping out (both to cook and eat), it was a lot of fun. Despite our inexperience, this turned out to be the best lamb I’ve ever eaten. It was buttery soft and full of flavor, without the overpowering gaminess than lamb can sometimes have. I think this was in large part due to the quality of the lamb from Hidden Pasture Farm, but everything from the marinade to the temperature of the meat was about as good as I could have asked for. The leg was rare, the loin medium rare, and the breast meat was cooked just long enough to crisp the fat and break down most of the collagen.

Definitely an event that I hope will turn into a yearly tradition.

  • littlebaker

    Enjoyed whole roasted lamb(1&2). I prefer Venison & Bear over beef or chicken. When I can I butcher the whole animal. Many uses for many parts. My native ancesters did it that way & so do I. Just takes patience.

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