To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being.
~Mahatma Gandhi

Then, we kill the both of them, without much compunction. As many may already know, I respectfully disagree with M. Gandhi, who was assassinated by a person repeatedly in late January, 1948. To an omnivore, occasionally slaying lamb, pork, beef, poultry or fish (provided one butchers head to tail) seems almost natural, commonplace — foodstuff for hungry mouths. So, lambs are somewhat beloved. Humans however, despite recent and past stats, should prove off limits to early deaths with little regret.

For instance, the Srbosjek was the term for the cutthroat, originally agricultural knife made for wheat sheaf cutting, which was used to kill prisoners in Croatian concentration camps during WW II. It was likely adopted to execute millions by the Ustase (Insurgence) having the upper part made of leather, designed to be worn with the thumb going through the hole, so that only the blade protruded from the hand. It had a curved, long knife with a sharp edge on the concave side. (Think box cutter.) There were even evil competitions to see just how many Serbian, Jewish and Gypsy throats could be slit with a single knife in a night. Their whole bodies then lie lifeless in a nameless, unmarked, mass grave.

A fascist Italian and Nazi German puppet government was installed under the guise of lawyer, Ante Pavelić, in around 1941.  Brutal genocide existed, what is often now called in a sanitized version, “ethnic cleansing, of Orthodox Serbian Christians for over a century…held most markedly under Nazi domination, anti-semitism, racism, and anti-catholicism. Terror reigned, and Pope Pius XII’s controversial response, despite the papacy’s detailed knowledge of the industrialized murders, was to turn a blind eye to these heinous crimes — certainly as it pertained to the victims. Neutrality, platitudes and often silence from the papacy met atrocities. The Pontiff could simply have done much more.

This post makes little mention of the vast number of Serbians that were forced to convert to Roman Catholicism during the war. Then, there were the barbarities of gas ovens and showers which perpetrated persecution via The Holocaust or Final Solution, and now American gun violence.

For shame, y’all.

LAMB SHOULDER

1 whole bone-in lamb shoulder, about 8-10 lbs

3 or so fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled & slightly smashed
3/4 C light brown sugar
1/2 C sea salt
1/2 C espresso beans, well ground
2 T black pepper, freshly ground
2 T oregano, ground in hand
1 bay leaf
1 T sage
2 T cumin seeds, roasted and well ground
1 T ground cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg, freshly grated
1 T cayenne pepper

Mantou (Chinese steamed buns), potato rolls, egg buns, even tortillas (warmed)

Place the lamb on a foil covered, rimmed sheet pan and set aside.

Rub the lamb with peeled garlic cloves.  Combine the brown sugar, sea salt, espresso beans, black pepper, oregano, bay leaf, sage, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cayenne in a glass mixing bowl and combine well. There should be about 2+ cups total.

Use the dry rub to coat all sides of the lamb, carefully massaging the mix into the meat’s cracks and crevices.

To set up a grill for smoking, leave half of the grill free of coals for wood chips.

Place the lamb onto a smoker or grill and cook, maintaining a temperature between 225-250 degrees F, replenishing wood chips as needed.

After about 4 hours, begin to check on the lamb every 20 minutes or so. You should be able to tear off a chunk of the meat readily.  The internal meat temperature, measured in a thick part not touching bone, will reach about 185-190 degrees F with the process taking up to 6 hours.

Remove the lamb to a clean rimmed sheet pan and set aside, covered, to rest. Then, using two forks or your clean fingers, pull apart the lamb shoulder into smaller pieces for sandwiches.

Garnishes
Lime wedges
Cornichons, sliced
Red onions, peeled and minced
Fresh cilantro or parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Radishes, thinly sliced
Avocados, peeled and sliced
Chipotle crema
Salsa fresca

Advertisements

Love children especially, for they too are sinless like the angels; they live to soften and purify our hearts and, as it were, to guide us.
~Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

I must be fleeing from this distasteful inanity. With reason.

Over time, many have taken and considered various pragmatic stances, were accoutred with reasonable negotiating skills, took pride in remaining well-informed, displayed patience and equanimity, and stood by with a congenial, usually optimistic bend even in dark times. They sought resolution via compromise. This does not ever imply that they were blameless or free of criticism. Lamentably though, that species is becoming extinct in today’s political world now peopled by fanatical demagogues who care little for civility or progress — their extreme positions are so entrenched and illogically dogmatic that compromise is inconceivable. Those zealots, mired down by delusion and arrogance, hope and pray only to garner enough financial and electoral strength to claim that lowly office once more (and avoid being “primaried”). Government servants who avowedly detest government weary me.

Anyone in any trade, craft or business who had such dismal approval ratings would feel soulless and would be on the streets. Is that not metaphorical because are not some politicians really soulless beggars in a sense?

So, time for a recess from this dysfunctional, almost dismembered, institution called congressional politics and a return to the more rational worlds of food, culture, music, art, literature, history, and science. I may return some day, but your misguided mania has caused me and so many others to lose faith.

Before taking leave of you, I humbly beseech that each day when you are preening for your next feckless Congressional hearing, absurd appearance on the floor, perplexing press interview, or lunch with those sycophants called lobbyists (who profit from your dysfunction), ask yourself this simple question: “what am I doing for this country’s youth?”

We are talking basic issues which deeply affect our young citizenry and our nation’s future. So, just try to avoid political obfuscation, encourage political and intellectual honesty, help to avert mass shoootings, address the rampant spread of guns, confront and curtail the dreadful impacts of global warming, assuage broad environmental concerns, reduce the costs of higher education, encourage an expansion of college grants, address our overall primary and secondary educational needs, assure that our precious ones have universal health care, feed hungry households, devote fervent efforts to the food system debacle, undertake to reduce income disparity, cease homelessness in our youth, withdraw from needless wars, and drastically lessen influence peddling and money in politics. These are some of the concerns which do plague, and will soon jeopardize, the next generation.

You will be gone by the time these woes really come to roost, but since most children cannot vote, apparently you seem not to care enough to help ameliorate their present and future problems. A form of exploitation. Yet, I still implore you to each day, while you draw that comb through whatever gray or dyed hair remains, again ask yourself this simple question: “what am I doing for this country’s youth?” Until something is done in a concerted way on that surreal Hill, I fear you will sentence them to lives of doom.

For now, let’s return to the lambs — a kinder place with gentler pastures.

GRILLED LEG OF LAMB

1 C extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 C red wine or sherry vinegar
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 T fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 T fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
2 lemons, halved and juiced
2 T Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 (4-5 lb) boneless leg of lamb, butterflied open

In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, oregano, thyme, rosemary, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper. Pat the lamb dry and lay in a large baking dish or on a platter, then season with salt and pepper. Pour the marinade over the lamb, turning the meat to coat well. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 4 hours or even overnight. Remove the marinated meat from the refrigerator about an hour before grilling so that it reaches room temperature.

Prepare coals for barbecuing. Roll 2-3 full newspaper sheets into tubes, then bend the tubes to form rings. Turn the chimney starter upside down. A grate splits the hollow inter­ior of the tub into two compartments. Fit the tubs into the base of the starter so that they are pressed against the grate. Be careful to leave a hole in the middle (the hole allows for airflow once the newspaper is lit).

Turn the chimney over so that it is right side up. Load the chimney to the top with charcoal. Using a long match or butane lighter, light the newspaper in several places through the holes at the bottom of the chimney starter. Wait 10–20 minutes for all the coals to light. The charcoal is ready when you see flames licking at the coals in the top of the chimney and gray ash just starting to form. Wearing an oven mitt, lift the chimney starter by the handle and slowly dump the hot coals in a pile onto the bottom coal grate in the middle of the grill, and put the starter in a safe place.

Once the briquets turn very hot, spread and place the top rack over them. The fire is medium-high when you can hold your hand about 3-4″ above the rack for 3 seconds or so before you must retract. Grill lamb, fat side down first, covered, for about 15 minutes. Turn meat and grill, covered, about 10 minutes more on the other side or until it reaches medium rare.

Before carving, let the lamb rest on a welled cutting board for at least 15-20 minutes to allow the juices to migrate throughout. If you carve too soon, the juices will simply exit the lamb leaving behind a much drier piece of meat. Slice the lamb across the grain and on the bias.

STUFFED LAMB SHOULDER

1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves and stems separated
2-3 shallots, peeled and finely sliced

1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 turnip, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 C thyme leaves, finely chopped
1/4 C fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
2 T fresh chives, finely chopped

1 (4 lb) boneless lamb shoulder
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and halved
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, for rubbing

1 (4 lb) boneless lamb shoulder
Extra virgin olive oil, for searing

4 C chicken stock
1 head garlic, cut in half transversely

2 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare an ice water bath. Add chard leaves to the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, immediately transfer to the ice water. Cool, drain, squeeze out excess water and coarsely chop.

Heat olive oil in a large, heavvy skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring, and continue cooking about 2-3 minutes. Transfer chard-shallot mixture to a medium bowl and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the carrots, turnips, parsley, chives, and chard-shallot mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 350 F

Spread the lamb open on work surface. Score the inside of the meat with a paring knife, making shallow incisions every 3/4″ while taking care not to cut all the way through the meat. Rub the opened shoulder on both sides with the halved garlic and season inside with salt and pepper. Then, spread the herb mixture over the surface, leaving a 1″ border. Carefully roll the lamb, tie with 5 or 6 pre-cut kitchen trussing strings at fairly close intervals. Brush with olive oil and season outside with salt and pepper.

In a large, heavy sauté or roasting pan, heat the olive oil on high. Add the lamb shoulder to the pan and briefly sear until browned on all faces, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from heat and then add the stock and garlic. Place in the oven for about 2 hours for medium rare to medium, or using an internal meat thermometer until it reads 155-160 F after resting. (Remember the meat’s internal temperature typically rises 5-10 degrees as it rests. So, remove lamb from cooking heat when the thermometer reads 5-10 degrees less than the ultimate desired temperature.)

Remove the lamb shoulder from the pan, place on a welled cutting board and tent with foil. Meanwhile, strain juices over a medium, heavy saucepan and cook on medium high until reduced by half, at least almost a silky sauce consistency. Remove from heat, whisk in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Remove strings, making sure you have allowed the lamb to stand 15-20 minutes before carving into larger slices for serving. Ladle sauce over sliced lamb shoulder on plates.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
~Emma Lazarus’ words engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty

Ok, Mitt…that’s it. For the most part, I have remained indifferent to this presidential election on here. But, I can no longer sit idly by and suffer this cluelessness and ineptitude. Romney has cavorted from flip-flopper to keenly out of touch to disingenuous and back. So, excuse my words, but they are deserved.

Just think of the last few weeks alone.  First, Mitt carelessly branded Russia as America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” Then, he made his much ballyhooed jaunt to Britain, Israel and Poland, only to commit silly diplomatic gaffes upon gaffes. Later, Romney uttered the outrageous statement that it was “disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks” that savagely killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others. Last week, when asked by George Stephanopolous whether $100,000 is considered middle income, he responded: “No, middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less.” Each time, the spin doctors emerged to try to quell the bleeding.

Now, at a $50,000-a-plate closeted fund raiser the former governor turned lifelong political candidate callously remarked that the 47% of Americans who pay no income taxes are people who are: “dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

He droned on dismissively to his “have more” base: “(M)y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

It is crucial to remember this — Mitt’s lengthy rant was no brief blunder or momentary slip. No, we have all seen, heard, and maybe even done that. Instead, this was a premeditated discourse reflecting ingrained disdain for the common working man and woman. Romney was candidly sharing the wealthy elite’s long-held, shameful contempt for the unworthy masses. That is and was the overwhelming evidence. His speech alone, and the stream of GOP affirmations afterward are undeniable proof.

Those moochers, those serfs — real people like combat soldiers, college students, scholars, student athletes, public school teachers, seniors, farm workers, low rung researchers, child welfare and medicare recipients, social security beneficiaries, janitors, unpaid spouses, sale clerks, cooks, retirees, aides, mechanics, waiters, lower management, modestly paid workers, wounded veterans, laborers, welfare workers, low income families, the unemployed, the poor, the disabled, and so on — just deserve no place in the GOP’s political calculus. According to Mitt’s mythical math, these freeloaders take pains to avoid paying federal income taxes and wallow around feeling victimized. Those good folks are just another of Romney’s many write-offs — lowly peasants undeserving of his concern.

By the way, what is it about contemptuously calling others “you people” and “those people,” Ann and Mitt? I suspect we all know.

Well, it always does take one of you people to know one of those people, Ann and Willard. Romney has by his own admission been “unemployed” for years choosing instead to carp and complain about others while hiding behind the lectern on his endless campaign trail. Ann does not work and has never paid federal income taxes from a job. Using a host of accountants and lawyers, Romney has also openly benefited from similar federal tax deductions, write-offs, credits and breaks that allow many “entitled” working Americans to avoid paying federal income taxes that would otherwise be due. In 2010 alone, a jobless Romney had a federal adjusted gross income of $21.6 million yet paid only $3 million in income taxes, a measly 13.9% of his annual income. Without the preferential investor treatment offered him under our tax code, Romney avoided federal income taxes at the top marginal rate of 35%, or $7.56 million — affording Mitt a tidy government subsidy on his federal income taxes for that year alone in the amount of $4.56 million.

This makes no mention of Mitt’s mother Lenore Romney’s words: “[George Romney] was a refugee from Mexico (and) was on relief, welfare relief for the first years of his life. But this great country gave him opportunities.” His own father was a public aid recipient as a child — just another one of those victims whose family believed he was “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it” — the part of society’s dregs that Romney so fervently disses.

Seems one Paul Ryan was even tossed in that rank pleb bag with the other deplorable 47%, as an unemployed, student social security survivor beneficiary as well as flipping ­­burgers at McDonald’s, steering the Oscar Mayer wienermobile, and slinging cheap margaritas. But for politics, a slacker most of his life according to his running mate. Perhaps it’s time to peer into the mirrors again, Guv’nor and Robin, before you arrogantly fabricate reality.

Now the Romney campaign is in damage containment mode, feverishly shaking the campaign etch-a-sketch pad (again). Meanwhile, Republican Senate candidates in tight races have rapidly distanced themselves from their presidential ticket. Of course, there was no hint of apology or repentance from the Romney camp. Contrition, however slight, is just not part of their vocabulary. Ann Romney said her hubby’s comments were “taken out of context” and the notably subterranean Paul Ryan mentioned that his boss’ words were “inarticulate.” Right wing pundits used words like “confused,” “messed up,” “inartful,” less than “ideal language,” then inexplicably twirled to “factually accurate,” “the truth,” and a “win for Romney.” For his part, Romney first grinned saying that his comments were “not elegantly stated,” and “off the cuff,” then clumsily pirouetted to an argument against the redistribution of wealth, now asserting he believed in an America where “government steps in to help those in need,” because “we’re a compassionate people.” Really? Remember, Mitt, you spouted that those people on the back side are not worthy of your attention.

No amount of truth spinning or word warping can make this right. It is flat wrong, even insulting, to directly pander to the underprivileged, unemployed, and middle/lower income earners and then treat them with utter disdain behind closed doors. Romney has shown a merciless lack of empathy for and now has openly denigrated nearly half of the citizens of this nation. Apparently, that is just another plank in his bewildering and bleak political ideology that he prays will span to the White House (built by the 47%).

Seems a long simmering stew is in order.

RAGOUT D’AGNEAU PROVENCAL (LAMB STEW PROVENCAL)

4 1/2 lbs lamb shoulder, cut into 2″ cubes, patted dry thoroughly
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T duck fat
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 onions, peeled, halved and sliced
3 medium heirloom tomatoes
1 1/2 C dry red wine
1/2 C chicken stock
1/2 C beef stock
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 medium eggplant, stemmed, cut into chunks
2 red peppers, seeded, roasted and cut into strips
2-3 medium zucchini, cut into chunks

Heat oven to 300 F

Sprinkle the lamb generously with salt and pepper. Heat duck fat and olive oil in a large Dutch oven and brown the lamb nicely on both sides. Remove meat with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the Dutch oven and cook the onions until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. While the onions are browning, peel, quarter and seed the tomatoes over a sieve set over a bowl to catch the juices. Reserve the tomatoes and juice. Pour the tomato juice into a 2 cup glass and then add enough red wine to fill. Deglaze the onions with the combined stocks, stirring up the bits from the bottom of the pan. Then add the wine and tomato juice mixture. Add the browned lamb, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme and garlic.  Cover and bake about 1 hour 30 minutes.

While the lamb cooks, salt the eggplant and set in a colander to drain, about 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry.   Once the lamb has cooked as above, add the eggplant, tomatoes and peppers, cover and cook for another 1 hour.

Then,  remove the lid, add the zucchini and cook another 30 minutes uncovered.

 Remove from the oven and discard the herbs. Spoon the lamb stew onto plates over artisinal noodles.

Each spice has a special day to it. For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-colored into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.
~Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
, The Mistress of Spices

Somehow, this became a three headed post.

Derived from the Persian word beryā(n) (بریان) which means “fried” or “roasted,” biryani is a rice dish crafted from a sensuously transcendent spice medley and basmati rice layered with curried meats (often lamb, mutton or chicken), fish, eggs or vegetables. Biryani was born in the kitchens of ancient Persia, and was later transported by merchants to the Indian subcontinent where the dish developed even further. Whether made in India, South Asia or the Middle East, regional variants are abundant and often without boundaries, such as hyderabadi biryani, ambur biryani, bhatkali biryani, kacchi biryani, awadhi biryani, mughlai biryani, berian biryani, sindhi biryani, khan biryani, memoni biryani, pakistani biryani, sri lankan biryani and the like. That is a short list.

Yes, I have admittedly been cheating on biryani. The farmers’ market spice merchant has been effusively loyal and ever helpful. Yet, I have been shamefully, almost covertly, buying his superb admix which is damned good. So, it only seemed fair to concoct my own biryani blend (with a little help from my friends). Much like curry or ras al hanout, dry roasting and then grinding your own spice brew at home tends to create a more spellbinding and blissful union.

BIRYANI SPICE BLEND

1 T cardamom seeds
1 T coriander seeds
2 t cumin seeds
1 medium cinnamon stick, cut into pieces
6 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1/2 T black peppercorns
2 t fennel seeds
2 t caraway seeds
2 star anise
1/2 t grated nutmeg
1/2 t turmeric

Dry roast spices over moderate heat until fragrant. Discard bay leaves. Cool and reduce to a powder in a spice grinder by pulses or by using a mortar and pestle. Store in an air tight container in a cool, dark place.

Now, on to the main course. Guests will be grateful for the effusive, almost contemplative, scents…

LAMB BIRYANI

Dry roast and grind anise seeds, black peppercorns, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, and cumin seeds.

1 t anise seeds, toasted and ground
2 T black peppercorns, toasted and ground
3 T green cardamom pods, cracked, toasted and ground
2 T coriander seeds, toasted and ground
2 t cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 t freshly grated nutmeg
2 cinnamon sticks

3 T unsalted butter
1 T canola oil
3 medium yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

3 T unsalted butter
1 T canola oil
2 T garam masala
1 t crushed red chile flakes
1⁄2 T turmeric
1 t paprika

6 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
4 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 1 1⁄2″ piece ginger, peeled and minced

2 1/2 lbs trimmed boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1 1/2″ cubes
Sea salt
3/4 C plain yogurt

2 1⁄2 C basmati rice
3 T unsalted butter
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1⁄2 T cumin seeds, toasted and ground
4 whole cloves
2 dried bay leaves
Sea salt
2 C water
2 C chicken or vegetable broth

1 C whole milk
1 t saffron threads

Mint leaves, roughly chopped
Cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Cashews, lightly sautéed in butter and chopped (optional)

Heat butter and canola oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and then just turning golden. Transfer to a bowl and set aside for later use.

Heat butter and canola oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat until shimmering. Add garam masala, chile flakes, turmeric, paprika, anise, pepper, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, and 1 cinnamon stick, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Then add garlic, tomatoes, chiles, and ginger and sauté, stirring, another 2–3 minutes more.

Add lamb, season with salt, and cook until lightly browned, turning, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked onions and yogurt, cover and reduce heat to medium and cook until lamb is tender, about 25 minutes. Place lamb in a glass bowl or dish, tent and set aside. Keep the empty Dutch oven available for the layering step below.

Meanwhile, melt butter over moderately high heat. Add the minced garlic cloves and sauté briefly but do not burn. Add the basmati rice, stirring well to coat. Add cinnamon stick, along with the cumin, cloves, and bay leaves, and season with salt. Add the water and stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low to medium low. Cover and cook until the rice is firm and the liquid reduced, about 10-12 minutes. Set aside off of the heat.

Warm the milk with the saffron threads in a small saucepan.

Transfer half the curried lamb back into the Dutch oven, then top with half the rice. Clothe with layers of the remaining lamb and then rice and finally add the warmed milk with saffron. (Lamb–>rice–>lamb–>rice–>saffron.) Cover and cook over low heat until the rice is tender, about 10 more minutes.

Plate and garnish with mint, cilantro and cashews. Consider serving biryani with coconut curry gravy, daal (lentils), regional vegetable dishes, and/or naan bread.

Pourboire: instead of sautéing in unsalted butter and canola, ghee or ghi–a traditional Indian clarified butter–is often used due to its high smoking point and toasted flavor. A recipe follows:

GHEE

1 lb unsalted butter, roughly cut into pieces

Place butter in medium saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a lively simmer or quiet boil, about 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, and the butter will form a first foam which will disappear. Ghee is done when a second foam forms on top of butter, and the butter turns slightly golden, about 7 minutes. Brown milk solids will naturally fall to the bottom of the pan. Allow to cool for several minutes. Slowly pour into ovenproof container through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth layers. If not using immediately, store in an airtight container and keep free from moisture.

The soul is healed by being with children.
~Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot

A time to celebrate, venerate! No, not by those archetypal yuletide jingles or hallelujahs. Rather, a new luminous face will grace us in the not too distant future…a precious one from my oldest and his winsome partner. Another beloved generation begins rife with bliss and trial, and we rejoice. Félicitations à vous deux.

A festive North African dish which derives from the Arabic word šawa (“roasted on a fire”), méchoui is a whole spit roasted lamb. The lamb is sometimes buried in a pit or nestled in a specially designed subterranean oven. While there are regional variations, traditional méchoui is a nose-to-tail lamb cooked with the organs still inside the cavity, each lending their own distinct flavors. The term can even be applied to grilled vegetables and other meats prepared in a similar fashion.

I am not accoutred to roast an entire beast, but a shoulder will more than suffice. Lamb shoulder is such an amiable soul—blessed by succulent, abundant gelatin with savory bone, connective tissue, collagen and more than a little intramuscular fat. Best yet, it is less expensive than its ovine cousins, the leg and loin chops. The soulful, yet too often forsaken, shoulder need not suffer envy.

MECHOUI ROAST LAMB SHOULDER

One whole bone-in lamb shoulder, about 5-6 lbs
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and halved

2 T whole coriander seeds
1 1/2 T whole cumin seeds
2 t sweet paprika
1 t raw sugar
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Sea salt
Extra virgin olive oil
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1-2 T ras al hanout

2 T honey

Carefully trim any leathery, silverskin membrane and some of the excess fat from the exterior of the lamb, but leave a thin layer of fat to protect the meat from becoming dry. Rub the shoulder with the cut garlic cloves.

In a small, dry skillet set over medium low, toast the coriander and cumin and toast, while shaking the pan occasionally, until just fragrant and beginning to turn golden, about 2-3 minutes. Do not brown or burn. Let the spices cool slightly, then grind them to a coarse powder in a mortar or spice grinder. Transfer the powder to a small bowl and stir in the paprika and sugar. Crush the garlic cloves with the flat of a chef’s knife, sprinkle on some sea salt, and mince well. Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil on the garlic and mash continuously with the knife, rubbing and pressing to make a soft purée. Add the garlic paste to the spices and then work in the butter until evenly mixed.

Make a dozen 1″ deep punctures in the meaty parts of the lamb. Rub the lamb all over with ras al hanout, then the seasoned butter, smearing some into the incisions. Set the lamb in a large glass baking dish and refrigerate overnight, loosely covered. Let the lamb sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before roasting.

Preheat the oven to 450 F

Place the lamb in a large roasting pan or dish, skin side up. Roast for 25 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 325 F and continue roasting, basting throughout with any pan drippings, until the meat is tender and beginning to fall off the bone, about another 2 1/2 to 3 hours. During the last hour drizzle the top with honey. The meat thermometer should register 145 F when the lamb is done to medium rare, but the shoulder should be cooked longer so that it can be shredded with forks.

Place the lamb on a carving board with a trough, tent loosely with foil, and allow to rest for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, pour off any excess fat from the roasting pan. Place the pan over medium high heat on the stove, add about 1/2 cup of wine or water, scrape up the bits and stir with a wooden spatula to reduce. Drizzle the reduced pan drippings over the meat and serve.

Accompany with dried apricot and currant couscous a dollop of Greek whole milk yogurt and a small bowl of harissa, a classic hot pepper paste.

Pourboire: recipes for ras al hanout, couscous and harissa can be found within by using the search box.

Burgundy makes you think of silly things; Bordeaux makes you talk about them, and Champagne makes you do them.
~Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

More white, more chill, more raw drafts, more winter light—with that sometimes dreaded V Day staring you down—all serve to page this comfy stew. So, please don’t lamely bring home those insipid red roses or banal boxed bonbons on Sunday. Instead, usher to the table a bodacious, succulent soul meant to warm your cockles. Peasant fare gone haute cuisine? Doubtful, but that does nothing to diminish the luscious carnality, even nobility, of this dish.

Never forget that careful kitchen caresses often reap sensual rewards.

Bourgogne (Burgundy), a région encompassing the départements of Côte-d’Or, Saône-et-Loire, Nièvre, and Yonne, is a diverse historic region in east central France—a mere 1 hour 20 minutes due southeast of Paris by TGV rail.

The Burgundians were a Scandinavian people whose original homeland lay on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea, where the island of Bornholm (Burgundarholm in the Middle Ages) still bears their name. During the 1st century, they migrated westward to the borders of the Roman Empire. There they established a powerful kingdom, which by the early 5th century extended to the west bank of the Rhine River and later centered on Sapaudia (Savoy) near Lake Geneva. The history of Burgundy is rather complicated, convoluted, even twisted at times. So, I will endeavor to address it in segments in later posts — suffice it to say it is more a state of mind than a place.

BOURGUIGNON D’AGNEAU (LAMB BOURGUIGNON)

1/2 lb thick bacon, cut into lardons (1/4″ x 1″)
1 T extra virgin olive oil

3 lbs lamb shoulder, cut into 2″ cubes, patted dry

2 medium carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and thickly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and thickly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 T all purpose flour

3 C dry red wine, such as a Côtes du Rhône or Pinot Noir
3 C beef stock
1 T tomato paste
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf, crumbled

Braised onions
24 smaller white pearl onions
2 T butter
1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 C beef stock
Bouquet garni (parsley sprig, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, tied in cheesecloth)

Sautéed mushrooms
1 lb crimini mushrooms, quartered
2 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil

Freshly parsley leaves, chopped (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 450 F

Simmer lardons for 10 minutes in water, then drain and dry on paper towels. Sauté lardons in olive oil in a heavy large Dutch oven over low medium heat to lightly brown and crisp, about 2-3 minutes. Remove to a large side dish with a slotted spoon.

Heat lardon fat in same Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add lamb, well spaced, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Place the browned lamb in the dish with the lardons. Add the sliced carrots, parsnips and onions to the same pot and brown, then pour out excess fat.

Return the lamb and lardons with the carrots, parsnips and onions to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Then sprinkle with flour and toss again to coat the contents lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle of preheated oven for 8 minutes, tossing once or twice.

Transfer Dutch oven to stove top and reduce oven heat to 325 F.

Stir in wine and enough stock to barely cover the meat and vegetables. Add the tomato paste, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to a kind simmer on the stove top. Cover Dutch oven and set in lower third of oven. Again, bring to a gentle simmer until fork pierces meat easily, about 3-4 hours. While the lamb is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.

Braised onions
In a deep heavy skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet. Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible, remaining careful not to break the skins.

Add the stock, bouquet garni, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove bouquet garni and set onions aside.

Sautéed mushrooms
Carefully wipe out skillet with paper towels and heat remaining oil and butter over medium high heat. Once butter has begun to bubble but not brown, add mushrooms. Toss until they brown lightly, about 4-5 minutes and then remove from heat.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the pot into a sieve set over a saucepan in order to make a sauce. Wash out the Dutch oven and return the lamb and lardons, strewing the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.

Meanwhile, skim fat off sauce in saucepan, and then simmer sauce for a couple of minutes, skimming off additional fat until reduced enough to coat a spoon. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, whisk in a few tablespoons stock. Taste and if necessary, correct seasoning with salt and pepper.

Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, tossing and basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.

Serve with artisanal noodles or potatoes, topped with parsley.

Pourboire: Please do not forget Julia Child’s mantra about browning —
(1) The meat should be thoroughly dried
(2) The oil in the pan should be quite hot
(3) Do not crowd the meat in the pan