Today I’m not sharing a recipe as much as the methodology used to serve a leg of lamb to our “bubble” (ie: neighbors) this past Sunday. I don’t have a recipe per se because when I cook for family and friends, I don’t follow recipes; I simply “cook”. It gives me freedom to try out new ideas and to prepare simple, family-style dishes, which I absolutely love!
We needed to pick up the lamb on Saturday morning at the farm. Eric, Skippy and I enjoyed a picturesque and sunny drive through the hilly countryside surrounding Monflanquin. The fields are now dotted in yellow thanks to the flowering “colza” (rapeseed) crops. It’s such a simple pleasure to see. We arrived at La Ferme Biologique de Catès, an organic farm owned by Didier Simard, who along with his partner Eve, take great care in raising and managing about 300 sheep and lamb. With all that care and attention, the quality is (needless to say) unmistakably high.
I wanted to do justice to the work of Didier and Eve and thought about the many ways to prepare a “gigot d’agneau”. In the end, I decided to “confit” it first to get a super tender texture and then I would give it a dry rub before finishing it off on the barbeque. It could then hold well over gently warm heat before serving - this is a perfect way to serve family and friends when you’d rather be visiting them instead of laboring in the kitchen.
Cooking a leg of lamb this way is time consuming only in the amount of planning time you need to allot, but it is very simple to do. The 1st confit cooking step should be started the day before you serve it, but you could equally do this several days before. For anyone not familiar, to “confit” something is to cook it at low temperature in an oil or fat, over a relatively long period of time. Here in the southwest of France, the fat of choice of course is duck from the same duck that gives us foie gras, magret and “duck confit”. (As many of you know by now this same duck fat makes fantastic fries!). The 2nd cooking step, the barbeque, adds more depth of spicy/smoky flavor, along with some crispy texture. Absolutely délicieux!
Recipe: Spiced 7-Hour Lamb Confit (on your website)
(I apologize in advance that I don’t have exact quantities as I was cooking by “feel” rather than precision. Adventurous cooks should be able to manage. Don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions.)
Day before: Prep and Confit the Lamb
- Remove the parchemin (thin outer layer of nervous tissue) of the lamb. As you do this, it is important to leave as much fat as possible below the tissue you are removing. Our leg weighed 1,9 kgs and it nicely served 6 people with leftovers for 2 (how convenient!).
- Heat duck fat over low heat until just melted. I used a stainless steel “half bac gastro” (a 6,2 liter pan, with a lid). I had about 2-3 liters of melted fat. (Exact quantities required will depend on your pan size). I added 6-8 peeled garlic cloves and several sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme to the melted fat (but no salt or other seasonings). I placed the leg of lamb in the pan whose oil temperature at that point was only 50°C, and that was OK. I never wanted the oil temperature to go above 75°C and the target was around 70°C. I put a cover on the pan and placed it in my pre-heated 100°C oven. After that, I let it cook “slow and low” for what was ultimately 7 hours. However, I monitored the oil temperature from time to time. Once the oil reached 70°C, I reduced the oven temperature to around 75°C. I should note that most of the leg of lamb (but not all) was initially covered in the duck fat. The tip of the bone and a little bit of the meat was not able to be submerged yet, but after the next step I knew that problem would be remedied! (The optimal way would be to submerge all from start to finish, but we sometimes have to maneuver ourselves to the situations we face!)
- After about 3-4 hours, I submerged some 30 small round potatoes (peeled and dried) in the duck fat and this raised the level so that now all of the leg of lamb was covered. I used Agata, which is a firm, yellow-flesh potato but Monalisa would also be a good choice. I left the potatoes in the pan the rest of the time. I was planning to serve 3 potatoes per person and then have some great leftovers.
- After about 7 hours, I checked the meat temperature with a digital thermometer and it was around 60°C. The meat felt tender with a fork. I removed the pan from the oven and let the meat and potatoes cool down gradually. This probably took another hour. In total, it took about 8-9 actual hours (from start to finish).
- I removed the meat, potatoes, garlic, and herbs from the fat and stored them together in the fridge until next day. I also separately stored the duck fat in the fridge which I will happily use another time! The meat will look rather pale (and could even be considered unappetizing!), and this is normal because of the cooking technique used. We’ll be fixing that problem tomorrow…
Day of Serving: Dry rub Lamb & Grilling
- Prepare dry rub (or use your favorite blend). I mixed together the following dried spices (without measurements): ground rosemary (powdered), garlic, onion, salt, pepper, spicy smoked paprika (Spanish pimenton), cumin, coriander, paella spice, Cayenne, and herbes de Provence. I chose to use dried herbs instead of fresh because I wanted a rather intense flavor that is best achieved with a dry spice rub. I tasted the blend and adjusted it until I liked it. I intentionally did not add sugar as is found in some blends – I didn’t want it and didn’t feel it was necessary to caramelize the meat.
- I generously rubbed the spice blend all over the lamb, using all of what I made. Normally I would spray olive oil on meat before adding the rub, but in this case, there was sufficient duck fat remaining. It was perfect!
- Prepare other vegetables: slice yellow, red and green peppers (2 medium size of the red and yellow peppers and 1 green); slice red onions (2 medium-large size). Season with olive oil, salt and piment d’Espelette (or Cayenne) pepper. Toss until well coated, but keep onions separate from peppers as the cooking times vary.
- Get potatoes ready for the grill: place in a stainless-steel pan with a lid. Again, additional oil was not necessary, but I seasoned well with salt, dried garlic and herbes de Provence. Chop fresh chives and parsley to add just before serving.
- Prepare barbeque – this was Eric’s job and he’s an expert griller I’m happy to say! Wood is a commodity where we live, so he does a wood burning grill. We prefer a lower temperature grilling technique that takes a longer period of time in order to cook and flavor without burning. According to Eric, “It requires that you burn wood until all “high” flames have vanished and only start cooking after that, on high temperature embers. We also make use of the unavoidable different temperature areas of the barbeque and the ability to adjust the height of the grill over the embers to further control the cooking temperature. ‘Avoid burning’ are the key words.” Eric placed the onions and peppers on separate cooking sheets with the peppers put on a cooler side of the grill. The potatoes were put in a warmer spot – the idea was to color them. The lamb was placed directly on the grill, in the warmest area and it required the most attention – it was rotated often to obtain a beautiful dark color, without burning. It took about 20 minutes, during which time the other ingredients were checked to make sure they were cooking well. After the meat was done, it was placed in a stainless steel pan with a lid. Once the peppers were cooked “al dente” and the onions were nearly caramelized, they were combined into another stainless steel pan with a lid. We had 3 pans of ready-to-serve food (the meat, the potatoes and the peppers-onion mix). We left them on the barbeque, now with descending heat, to keep warm. We were then able to enjoy the apéro and 1st course with our guests without worry – it held perfectly for the time this took.
- Serving the leg of lamb: The meat nicely fell off the bone without falling apart. This allowed me to slice 6 beautiful, equal portions of meat. The outside of the lamb was crunchy with delicious spice, and the inside was tender, juicy and mild. My goodness, you cannot imagine that so much deliciousness is possible!! I sliced it just before serving (it took me only 5 minutes). You could pre-slice the meat before holding it to keep warm, but this risks drying out the meat.
- Normally, I would go to the table with a single large platter containing all of the sliced meat and vegetables, and let for everyone dig in. However, we are still living in COVID times, so it was plated individually. I made a fresh herb-garlic toum that I tightened up enough to serve as a “quenelle”. I also liked it thinned out with buttermilk, which gave it more of a ranch dressing affect – equally delicious!