If you think about it, breast of lamb should really be ticking all the boxes for the solitary skint foodie. It's cheap - cheaper (in Asda at least) even than our beloved pork belly; it's most often packaged as a 2-3 portion rolled and boneless joint, just right for a Sunday lunch plus leftovers; and it comes with the promise of sweet and tender meat.
But on the few occasions when I've been tempted to cook it, what I've found is that the box it most vehemently ticks, with a mahoosive, fuck-off, indelible marker pen, is the one marked 'Vast Amounts Of Unappetising Fat'.
Now fat can be a glorious thing, particularly when we're talking pork (see the previous post) and beef (although the government have been mysteriously silent on my proposal to provide free bread and dripping to all school children). But, in my opinion, a little lamb fat goes a long way.
Now, The Ginger Pig, butchers of distinction, have, with ineffable kindness, taken to gifting me an occasional package of 'mystery meat' - and this month's generous offering was two bone-in breasts of lamb. Time then, finally, to find a recipe or two which successfully dealt with the cut's unwanted adiposity.
Actually, before that, why is it called 'breast' of lamb anyway? As you can see from the diagram below (which I took from this page of the Ginger Pig's website without permission and with a cavalier disregard for the copyright laws, because that's how this samizdat, 'Fight The Power' gastro-rebel rolls, motherfuckers*), it's really the belly.
Anyway, whatever you call it, the lot I was given weighed in at approximately 2.2 kg, from which I first removed about 400g of the most obvious and accessible fat. I then divided each breast into a boneless half and a bone-in half. The two boneless pieces were (badly) manhandled and tied into a rolled joint:
I then steamed the bone-in halves for 1½ hours (which rendered out loads of fat) before slicing them into two portions of individual ribs.
I marinaded the first portion in a pomegranate molasses dressing and grilled them...
...but, although they looked the business, taste-wise the molasses was too overpowering for the succulent ribs.
For the second portion, I used this recipe which I didn't alter save for two details. Firstly, I didn't have any grapeseed oil so used rapeseed oil, on the basis that there was only one consonant missing after all. Secondly, I didn't follow the cooking method - I coated the ribs in a little oil, roasted them for 15 minutes at 200C/180C fan, brushed them with some of the dressing, whacked the oven up to maximum, roasted them for a few minutes longer and then coated them with more dressing before serving.
The dressing, though a bit sludgy in appearance, tasted absolutely fabulous. I'm going to keep a jar of it in the fridge from now on.
Steaming the ribs beforehand meant that there was just the amount of fat you want for a finger-licking bowl of ribs.
With the rolled joint, I decided on a slow braise to render the fat into the stock, which I could then skim off. But I was also going to brown the meat first - until my fellow blogger Lisa (AKA @peckhamryeeats) suggested browning after the braise. Brilliant. Because that way you can braise the lamb a day or two before you are going to serve it and then complete the cooking in under half an hour. Also, it allows all the fat in the gravy to rise to the surface and solidify, making it really easy to get rid of.
Job. Indubitably. Done.
slow cooked breast of lamb
Ideally, you'll have an oval, lidded casserole to cook this in.
I didn't bother with any stuffing, due to all the aromatics added to the stock. I served the lamb and gravy with this spinach dish and roast potatoes.
1 de-boned breast of lamb, seasoned, rolled and tied
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, thickly sliced
1 celery stick, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 glass red wine
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 juniper berries, crushed
2 sprigs of thyme
500ml chicken stock
salt + black pepper
Place your casserole over a fairly high heat. Add the oil, then the onion, celery and carrot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables have taken on a bit of colour. Add the garlic and stir. Add the red wine and let it bubble away to almost nothing, stirring with a wooden spoon and scraping up any stickiness on the base of the casserole.
Add the bayleaf, juniper and thyme. Nestle the lamb into the vegetables and pour in the stock. Bring this to a simmer, then cover the casserole and place in a 150C/130C fan oven for three hours, turning the joint once during this time.
At the end of the three hours, take the casserole out of the oven, remove the lamb and strain the gravy into a jug. Discard the vegetables and herbs. Allow both the lamb and the stock to cool, then refrigerate.
Remove the lamb and the stock from the fridge. After skimming off all the fat that has risen to the top, pour the gravy into a small pan and season to taste (you'll end up with about 200ml). Let the lamb come back to room temperature, then brush with a little olive oil, place in a small roasting tin and roast in a 200C/180C fan oven for 15-20 minutes, turning once, until browned and heated through. Remove from the oven and rest while you warm up the gravy. Remove the string from around the joint, cut the lamb into thick slices and serve with the gravy poured over and maybe some mint sauce or redcurrant jelly on the side.
* Please, please , please don't sue me. I'm so very sorry.
SHORTLISTED FOR FOOD BLOG OF THE YEAR 2014