I know some of you are groaning right now wondering why I’m posting lamb yet again. I get it, I used to be a lamb hater myself. It can have a funk that’s hard to get past and if it’s not prepared right, it can be downright bad. But as with many foods I thought I didn’t like at one point in my life, I’ve come around. Prepared well, lamb can be sublime, easily besting beef, and possibly (though rarely) trumping pork.
For this roast, I cured the lamb overnight in the fridge in a garlic rub that permeates the meat, infusing it with salt and taking some of the edge of the lamb. The slow roast at a low temperature renders out much of the fat while liquifying the tougher connective tissues making for a super tender, melt-in-your mouth experience that is sure to put a smile on any meat-lover’s face.
Because the meat is on the salty side, I wanted a sauce that’s sweet and slightly acidic to balance it out. A red wine reduction seemed like a no-brainer, but I was looking for something more complex, so I brought the sugar to a caramel brown before adding the wine. To bridge the gap between the sweet and fruity caramel sauce and the lamb, I added the deep brown caramelized juices of the lamb (a.k.a. meat crack), and finish it off with a pat of butter to mellow it out. By the time it’s done, it’s an ebony shade of brown, viscous and rich, like liquid meat candy.
To offset the decadent lamb, I served this with a saute of spring greens, which included baby artichokes, asparagus, spring onions and fresh chickpeas. Chickpeas, like lamb are an oft misunderstood food. Their other name “garbonzo bean” conjures up memories of all-you-can-eat salad bars with wilting, brown-edged iceberg lettuce, and creamy orange dressings. Even people with a soft-spot for hummus tend to shy away from the whole beans.
Fresh chickpeas are an entirely different beast. Looking more like an alien brain, than a legume, fresh peas have a ridged appearance radiating an erie fluorescent green glow from inside the pea itself. For added entertainment value, each pod contains a pair of peas protected by a cushion of air that escapes with a pleasant pop when you squeeze them. Shelling peas is always a hassle, but juvenile pod popping fun aside, you’ll be rewarded with sweet and tender peas that bear almost no resemblance to the dried or canned variety.
A quick blanche followed by a saute and squeeze of lemon, and these spring veggies make the perfect foil on which to present your slow roasted lamb.
for bordeaux caramel
for spring veggie saute
- Smear the garlic all over the roast. If your roast has been pre-tied, make sure you get the garlic into all the crevasses. Mix the salt, sugar and pepper together and sprinkle it all over the roast (it should make a thick crust on the outside). Wrap the whole roast tightly in plastic wrap, put it in a bowl, and store it in the refrigerator overnight.
- When you're ready to roast the lamb, unwrap it and place it on a rack on a cookie sheet. Use a sheet of aluminum foil to make a tray just larger than the roast. The idea is to have something under the rack to catch all the juices from the roast so they don't run all over the cookie sheet and burn.
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Roast the lamb for 4-6 hours, or until a fork passes easily through the roast. While the meat is roasting, add the corn syrup and sugar into a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium high heat and let the sugars caramelize until medium brown (about 345 degrees F on a candy thermometer). Remove the pot from the heat then slowly add the wine. The caramel will bubble up and get hard, but this is okay. Put it back on the heat and let it boil until the caramel is melted. Turn off the heat and wait till the roast is done to finish the sauce.
- Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Heat a large pot of heavily salted water (it should taste like the sea) to a boil and toss the shelled chickpeas and asparagus in. As soon as the asparagus turns bright green (should take less than a minute), use a slotted spoon to transfer the greens to a the ice bath. Add the trimmed artichoke hearts to the boiling water and cook until you can pass a fork through them. Drain the artichokes as well as the chickpeas and asparagus and set aside.
- Remove the roast from the oven and wrap it in a couple layers of foil. The foil tray you made under the roast should have collected all the lamb juices and fat. The juices should have caramelized into a brown crust called fond by now, which should peel up off the foil, leaving the oil behind. Add this caramelized lamb juice into the sauce pan with wine. Put the saucepan over medium high heat and boil until the sauce is very thick (it should almost be chewy). Whisk in the butter to finish.