Twice a year, my father in law prepares a legendary meal which I refer to as “The silence of the lambs”. He spends the best part of a day shepherding a a flock (he cooks enough that this must be the appropriate term) of lamb through the kitchen and onto our plates, according to a recipe handed down from his mother (but in quantities which I don’t think she’d have imagined possible). The result is a delicious, artery-clogging feast which sadly since surviving a minor heart attack, his Doctor has forbidden him from enjoying with us. It’s a tradition that quite clearly needs to be passed on to the next generation!
In this week’s Torah, the children of Israel pack up and leave Egypt. The menu for their last meal before leaving is dictated to Moses by the Allmighty – roasted lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. I decided that this week would be an appropriate time to serve lamb for the Friday night table.
Although a typically middle eastern meat, lamb is fairly expensive in Israel (my father in law fills the freezer when it goes on sale) so I opted for a cheap cut – the neck. Like many cheap cuts, it’s under-appreciated and is in fact very tasty and excellent in stews and sucking the meat off the bone is a bonus as far as I’m concerned. I paid NIS 51 per kilo at the shuk – not cheap, and part of that weight is bone – but not horrific for a one off treat either. I might add that our guests are the types who I’m sure will appreciate it too which is always a consideration.
When cooking a new dish, I usually check out a variety of recipes and then make something which draws from more than one. My main inspiration comes from a blog that I very much enjoy – Amateur Gourmet but I’ve tweaked the flavourings somewhat. I didn’t have stock available so white wine is my cooking liquid – I ignored received wisdom and used the cheapest bottle I could find to no ill effect. In that rosemary, sage and thyme grow in a pot on my balcony, I added them with the bay leaves (dried would be fine too). I also decided to leave out the lemon zest but to give it additional citrus by serving it with gremolata, an Italian condiment made of finely chopped lemon zest, garlic and parsley – it adds pungency and freshness to any dish and is simple to prepare. When I next prepare it (and there will certainly be a next time given the enthusiastic response), I would add carrots and celery to the veggies.
I served this over barley but go with rice, mashed potatoes, polenta – or any other grain that you might fancy.
Serves 4 – 6
For the lamb:
1 1/2 kilos of lamb neck in thick steaks, well dried, at room temperature
salt and pepper
1/4 cup of flour seasoned with 1 tsp each of paprika and smoked paprika and 1/2 tsp of chili powder
3 large onions roughly chopped
1 head of garlic (or more depending on your taste – it won’t do any harm!) peeled and roughly chopped
3 large tomatoes, chopped
1 bottle of dry white wine
herbs – choose from 2 bay leaves, 4 -5 springs of rosemary, 4 – 5 sprigs of thyme, a handful of sage – any or all – dry is also fine but use smaller quantities as the drying process concentrates the flavour
segments of 2 lemons (do them like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTqYfenCaM0)
zest of 2 lemons
3 garlic cloves (I like it garlicky)
leaves of 1 bunch of parsley
What to do:
Season the lamb with salt and pepper, coat in seasoned flour mix
In a heavy pan (a dutch oven or other such pot that you can use on the stove top and in the oven is ideal),on a high heat brown the meat in batches – I did it 3 pieces at a time
Remove meat from the pan and add the vegetables. Sweat for 6 – 7 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 165c / 325f
Add wine and herbs and bring to the boil
Return meat to the pan, cover with parchment paper (wet the paper to make this easier) and the lid and put in the oven.
Cook for 2 1/2 hours, turning the meat every 45 minutes of so.
Whilst the meat is cooking make your gremolata by finely chopping the garlic, lemon zest and parsley – I prefer a sharp knife but if you want to use a processor to make more washing up then go for it!
When the meat is ready, stir the lemon segments into the sauce.
As we had this on Shabbat when we refrain from photography the photo is of leftovers on Saturday night when (clearly) only the sauce was left – but even that was superb!!