Lamb Leg a la Twitter

“I have 3kg leg of lamb (lucky me) but only 2 px to feed! suggestions?”

One of my weaknesses is a good deal so when I was passing the butchers counter at the local supermarket and saw a HUGE leg of lamb at what was frankly a giveaway price I bought it without a thought of what I was going to do with said joint of meat.

The first notion that came to mind was to roast the leg in the classical manner  (garlic, rosemary etc) and invite the in laws for a nice spring lunch but they had already made plans.  So the question remained what was I to do?  Using the magic that is Twitter I decided to pick the brains of of a few foodie talents… all of whom possess considerably greater culinary imagination, skill and knowledge than myself. My thanks to all those who replied with suggestions … they were so great that I was inspired to cook and post!

A selection of them (and links to the blogs … all of which are worth checking out) are below.

@akikamozawa (chef, food writer and blogger: Ideas in food)
Mmm lucky you, leftovers. I like mine well seasoned & simply grilled or slow roasted. Wine/herbs/soy/garlic marinade or baste

@thomasinamiers (Masterchef winner, food writer and chef/patron of Wahaca)
make a middle eastern slow braise and freeze what you dont need for a rainy day. Garlic sumac thyme lemons

@stacie_stewart (Masterchef semi-finalist, food blogger and beehive baking queen)
Bone it and divide into 4x 750g portions. Then make lamb curry, hotpot, shepherds pie and steamed lamb suet pudding … all the recipes for the lamb are on [my blog]

@justcookit (Masterchef semi-finalist, food writer and blogger)
cold lamb isn’t great so eat much as poss then make shpherds pie w the rest

@CarolBlymire (food blogger: Alinea at home, French Laundry at home)
freeze some for later.

@ruhlman (food writer, broadcaster and blogger)
separates it into its separate muscles and cook individually, or make lots of shepherds pie and lamb sandwiches tomorrow! … if you do a good job, you can cook those lamb muscles almost like loin.

@docsconz (culinary doctor and food blogger)
Cut it into smaller portions, freeze most and cook a little at a time or invite more folks for a wonderful roast!

@vindee (food blogger: Passionate about baking, co-creator of Mactweets)
Debone , mince, make different varieties of kebabs, freeze. Can marinate and freeze a leg-o-lamb too.

As a result of the great idea I decided to follow Michael Ruhlmans suggestion and debone the leg.  I liked the idea of separating each muscle by butchering along the seams. The should ensure that each portion of lamb would be free of connective tissue running thorugh it (gristle to you an me) and cook evenly as it would be composed essentially of the same meat.

I wanted to make a good job of this so to get me started I found a great video guide by The Healthy Butcher which illustrated the basic steps of removing the bone to leave a butterflied leg.

Joint opened up along the fatty seam and the bone now exposed as per the video.

I continued to cut carefully close around the bone until it could be removed. Use the bone as your guide and take you time and you won’t go far wrong …or lose much meat.

Now, to separate the meat by cutting between the muscles. If you get this right there is not actually much cutting to do as the muscles will almost peel apart like the segments of an orange. Just use the knife to ease them apart and trim the edges. The meat around the shank was left whole as the there is a lot of fine connective tissue (this cooks down when braised give you that yummy rich stickiness) .

I ended up with (from left to right) six fillet like pieces from the upper leg, two large boneless cuts for braising and the bone with some some trimmings. Don’t throw that bone away!… added to a braise it will add fantastic richness, I bagged it up with the trimmings and put it in the freezer.

I took one of the fillets and placed it in a marinade of crushed garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and Herbes de Provence for about half an hour.  I went heavy on the garlic (one of the giant cloves from the elephant garlic I grew last year).

The marinated lamb was seared on a hot grill on for a few minutes on each side and then finished in the oven.

Rested for about 10 minutes before carving, the meat was superbly tender and juicy, presumably a result of not being cut across the grain when the leg was butchered. The result of my labours was probably the best piece of meat I have cooked this year … served on ratatouille with some mixed leaves.

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Raspberry Macarons

I have been wanting to bake macarons for a while and inspired by the wonderful creations by Edward Kimber, Aran Goyoaga and Helene Dujardin I decided to have a crack at making my own. Pierre Herme is the undisputed master of this elegant confection and the recipe for the rose shells are from his book “Macaron” (soon to be released in English) and can be found here.

They were not as hard to make as I thought they would be (even though I have never used a piping bag before) but I did pick up a few hints that seemed to help.

  • I “aged” my egg whites before use by leaving them covered with a clean tea towel at room temperature for 24 hours.
  • Don’t over boil the syrup before adding to the egg whites (use a cooking thermometer…this is mine).
  • Leave the piped macarons to dry for 30 minutes before baking (the surfaces should be dry to the touch).
  • Once the macarons are baked remove the  parchment from the baking sheets so the macarons do not overcook.
  • Do not remove the macarons from the parchment until they are fully cooled.

I made a raspberry buttercream to fill the rose macaron shells. A handful of fresh raspberries were blitzed using a stick blender and the puree passed through a sieve to remove the seeds.  Butter (160g) and  icing sugar (320g) were beaten in the Kenwood until pale and creamy and the raspberry puree added. However I added too much raspberry and my buttercream split and became sloppy! I managed to rescue the filling by beating in additional icing sugar.

I was pleased with the final result and they tasted as good as they looked. We ate several whilst watching the rugby yesterday and they made a great gift for the birthday dinner Mrs W. and I went to afterwards. Unfortunately I was so busy yesterday that I didn’t manage to post this in time for the mactweets blogroll for macaron bakers.  Oh well… maybe next time.

Copenhagen: Part One

I haven’t posted in a while… time to catch up on a few things…

I occasionally have to travel for work which I don’t really enjoy as much as I used to. I miss Mrs W. and C. terribly when I am away and I hate the BS and boredom that now comes with air travel (especially as travelling anywhere from Belfast usually requires two flights). However there are some compensations. When I have to travel it is an opportunity to indulge myself by sampling more experimental cuisine than normal as I don’t have to accommodate anyone else in my plans.

As soon as I had confirmed my travel dates to Copenhagen I put some thought into what and where I might like to eat. My schedule was an early arrival on Monday and to fly home on the Wednesday afternoon. I had been to Copenhagen previously and I had enjoyed the city which is clean, stylish and cycle friendly. I had also loved the food. From the hot dog stands which are on almost every street corner, marinated herring, smørrebrød and the ubiquitous pastries to the lovely Vietnamese meal I had in Lê Lê. Now that I was returning I was determined to make the most of the opportunity.

Noma was at the top of my list. This iconic restaurant has come to symbolise all that is exciting about Nordic cuisine. I had read and heard so much about its unique approach that if I could possibly secure a table I was going. I immediately put myself on the waiting list and was delighted when they called to offer a lunch reservation on Wednesday. So with a business dinner with my hosts scheduled on the Tuesday evening I wanted to find somewhere interesting to go for dinner on Monday. I started to research where might be a good option as I wanted to go somewhere interesting but somewhat less extravagant than Noma.

My search led me to verygoodfood. This beautifully written and illustrated blog written by Trine Lai is a love letter to gastronomy in general and the Copenhagen food scene in particular. It is a must read if you are planning a visit and having read some posts I made a reservation at Aamanns Establishment for Monday dinner.

One of the nice features of Copenhagen restaurants is that many of them offer online reservations (Noma and Aamanns Establishment included). This is a great feature for those travelling as tables can be booked at any time of the day or night without having to make expensive phone calls or worry about language (not that this is a problem in Denmark as almost everybody speaks excellent English).

Noma is world famous and booked solid months in advance (bookings are allowed three months ahead so if you can plan that far in advance simply book a table using the online system at midnight three months before you wish to eat and your chances are good….no interminable waiting on the phone required!) If you register on the waiting list there is a good chance you will get a cancellation if you can be flexible with timings.

I arrived into Copenhagen and it was COLD with lots of snow (-10°C as I got off the plane). After sorting myself out at the hotel and a meeting with my business hosts it was soon dinnertime and I walked the sort distance from my hotel (the Scandic Palace Hotel located in Rådhuspladsen which was pleasant but dull in a corporate way) to Aamanns Establishment. The restaurant is unfussy, relaxed and tastefully decorated (image from the Aamanns Establishment website).

The dinner menu offered a choice of two starters, two mains and two desserts. For me this is a good sign, I want to eat what the chef thinks is good and in season. One could also choose both starters and/or both desserts to make a 4 or 5 course meal. A nice touch was the wide selection of wine offered by the glass, with a paired choice for each course. This is great for those dining alone as a whole bottle is often too much for one and it is nice to sample a selection of wines. The service was excellent with the waitress happy to patiently translate the Danish menu (she found an English one later) and explain the dishes.

Unfortunately I did not have a camera with me so there are no photos of my dishes but Trine has posted an illustrated review which gives a flavour of the food served at Aamanns.

My starter of marinated scallops with brussels sprouts, almonds and a herb cream was a surprising, lovely start to the meal. Brussels sprouts aren’t usually my cup of tea, (the waitress translated them as greens) but in this dish the sprout leaves were charred to give a nice bitterness which contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the thinly sliced scallops and the acidity from the orange ceviche style marinade. The toasted almonds and herb cream added a lovely richness to the dish. This was paired with a nice white from Beaune (Bourgogne Aligoté 2007, Fanny Sabre).

My main course of braised ox cheek was always going to be a big hit with me and this did not disappoint. The wonderfully tender ox cheek, served with braised salsify, was melt in the mouth soft and glazed with a moreish sticky jus. However the accompaniments were even better. A savoury trio of onions comprising sticky caramelised onions, crispy onion rings and baby pickled onions gave sharp contrasts of taste. The dish was served on a bed of spelt grain which had a nutty taste and lovely toothsome texture similar to a very al dente risotto but with the bite on the outside of the grain. To compliment the rich beef I was served a pinot noir from Austria (2007, Schloss Halbturn) which had lovely soft rich flavours.

This was very accomplished cooking and I was not alone in my appreciation as I overheard gushing comments in English from two young guys at the next table. We got chatting and it transpired that they were chefs one of whom was en route to a Swedish relocation, the other was working at St John in London (another place I want to try!).

Dessert comprised pear compote with a scoop of chestnut ice cream topped with a chestnut foam which was rich and flavoursome whilst remaining light on the palate. Drinking wine by the glass allowed me to treat myself to a delicious sweet chenin blanc (2006,  Domaine Bablut).

I was full after three courses so I decided against a second desert or cheese and spent the remainder of the evening chatting to the two English chefs (one was called George and quite embarrassingly I cannot recall the name of the other) and the staff. The food was perhaps better than any meal I have eaten in London, innovative and good value at £60 for three courses with some really interesting wine choices  (Copenhagen is a very expensive city so prices should be compared to London).

My appetite had been whetted for Noma… to be continued!

Underground Restaurant ‘pops up’ in Brixton Village Project

Two projects that have captured my interest recently happened to cross paths. 

Spacemakers takes empty units and ‘slack spaces’ and breathes life back into recession hit areas by creating pop up shops and cafes. They have started a with a a 1930s market arcade in Brixton, joining forces with London & Associated Properties PLC and Lambeth Council to fill the empty shop units in Granville Arcade/Brixton Village indoor market. An old friend from my door to door book selling days Douglad Hine heads up this project. More info can be found in their blog.

They ran a ‘foodie’ event for their grand opening and it just happens that one of a favorite food blogger of mine, Mrs Marmitelover, who runs The Underground Restaraunt (at which I plan to dine when I can next get to the capital) took up a stall for the day …. hey presto there was a pop up restaurant…. all profits going to the unfortunate in Haiti.

Projects like this demonstrate the capacity that ordinary people have to improvise, create and make a difference to themselves and others.  Get involved and support if you can. In these recession afflicted times …this is the way forward.