For the past couple of years, we have shared half a lamb with a friend through a local CSA. We never know exactly what cuts we’re going to get and, frankly, we don’t really care. It’s all delicious. And part of the fun for me is thinking up new ways to prepare it.
One of the cuts in this year’s share was a small roast on the bone — not more than 3 pounds in all. I made a gremolata and spread it across the top of the meat, put the roast in the pan in which I intended to cook it, then let it sit in the fridge for a couple hours so that the meat would absorb the lemon, garlic, and parsley goodness in which it was dressed. I preheated the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and, after letting the roast come to room temperature for about a half hour, I threw the whole pan right into the hot oven with a bit of mire poix and red wine. After about 15 minutes, I turned the oven down to 350 degrees, and continued cooking the roast until it registered just under 140 degrees on my instant-read thermometer— the high end of medium rare, especially after accounting for carry-over cooking.
You can see the results for yourself here . . . but you won’t be able to taste them unless you try it yourself at home.
When my Aunt Eleanor was diagnosed with cancer, I left the Michelin-rated-restaurant world in search of a cooking position that would afford me more time to spend with her in her final months. I landed a job as the executive sous chef in a retirement community, and was quickly introduced to the world of institutional cooking. The culture there — as in so many institutional kitchens — had been “heat and serve,” and I was hired to teach my crew how to cook real food from scratch.
I soon learned that my staff members already knew how to cook; all I really needed to do was allow them to do it. I also had the good fortune of having a team that had immigrated from all over the world. Among them was a young woman from the Middle East who, when not being ignored entirely, was teased and ridiculed by her male colleagues for being — in their opinion — unattractive. When I asked her about her homeland and what she had most loved about cooking there, she immediately described a dish of succulent lamb meatballs made with nuts and sweet spices. She begged me to get her the ingredients so that she could make them for me and the community residents.
Ground lamb proved to be outside of the budget, but she made due with ground turkey and proudly presented the meatballs to me. While not quite as good as the lamb version (which she later made at home and brought me as a gift), they were so delicious that the nasty remarks and pranks of her colleagues immediately became words of praise and pats on the back. After that day, I watched as her confidence and pride in her work blossomed.
When I made the meatballs in this photo last week, I couldn’t help but remember that experience . . . and be reminded of how vitally important it is to one’s self-respect to be allowed to live up to one’s potential.
The lambshank was cut osso buco style. The cranberry beans were freshly shelled. The swiss chard was ruby red. The three ingredients cried out to be married in a single bowl, with little more than a bit of red wine and mire poix. And we cried out in delight when we ate them.
My brother-in-law, Drew, sent me a link to The Daily Prompt, which asked the question, “If you could get all the nutrition you needed in a day with a pill — no worrying about what to eat, no food preparation — would you do it?” For me, the answer is simple: food is not about nutrition, it’s about nourishment. The only validation I need of my point of view is this meal of seared lamb shoulder chop, baby beets, and mixed greens — all from local farms — on a table modestly set with flowers cut from a tree branch and placed in a mason jar. The minds and machines of pharmaceutical engineers will never be able to nourish my soul in the ways that the hearts and hands of my local farmers do.
When I was a child, lamb was too expensive to have more than once or twice a year. When I grew up, I discovered lamb shanks ― a more affordable cut that is every bit as delicious as the more costly chops. I like to sear lamb shanks to a crispy brown before braising them for hours in red wine and a classic mire poix of onions, carrots, and celery, until the meat nearly falls from the bone. Fennel, coriander, and mustard seed also make great additions, and add to the anticipation as the spicy aroma fills the air. If you’re dining in polite company, I suggest eating lamb shanks with a fork. But if you’re eating alone, no one will be the wiser if you pick one up with your hands and have at it like a dog with a bone. I suspect doing so may even make you feel like wagging your tail.