[Epaule d'Agneau Confite et Flageolets]
Spring lamb is the traditional centerpiece of Easter Sunday menus in France: the agneau pascal symbolizes the sacrifice of the innocent, and the breeding cycles mean it is at its best this time of year, conveniently enough.
My family isn't religious at all and the only thing we've ever commemorated at Easter is the invention of chocolate, but because Catholic traditions are so deeply rooted in France, they're an integral part of the country's culture, regardless of one's beliefs.
Easter inspirations were thus on my mind when friends from San Francisco came to dinner late last week, so I decided to serve them a slow-roasted shoulder of lamb with a side of beans, lamb's favorite playmates.
The lamb shoulder was ordered from Jacky the butcher (I requested that he leave the central bone in for flavor), rubbed with olive oil and dried herbs, and plopped in the cocotte and in the oven to reflect on the meaning of life (or, more amusingly, The Meaning of Liff) for four hours, a glass of wine in hand.
As for the beans, I had initially planned to serve the Rolls Royce of beans, but because I hadn't planned far enough in advance to buy them at G.Detou, I had to look in my neighborhood, and found them at such an exorbitant price that I was tempted to lecture the shop owner about Greed, and had he not seen Seven?
Instead, I turned to the closest organic shop, where the young and friendly attendant seems to be munching on something every time I walk in (I have no grudge against gluttony), and picked up a bag of good-looking and more reasonably priced flageolets verts from Beauce.
The beans were cooked in the most straightforward way, simply simmered with onions in my second cocotte (I don't know what I'd do without these two) and by the time they were done, the lamb was copper brown and spoon-tender, the juices and wine reduced to a syrup, and the cloves of garlic turned to butter in their papery sheaths.
Epaule d'Agneau Confite aux Herbes de Provence
- One shoulder of lamb, central bone still in, about 1.5 kg (3 1/3 pounds)
- Olive oil
- 2 to 3 tablespoons herbes de Provence (a mix of dried thyme, rosemary, basil, and marjoram)
- Half a head of garlic
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- Salt, pepper
Serves 4 to 6.
Coat the meat lightly with olive oil and rub it with the herbs to cover all sides. Wrap tightly in plastic (or return to the butcher's paper wrapper), and refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.
Remove the meat from the fridge half an hour before cooking. Preheat the oven to 120°C (250°F). Separate the garlic into individual cloves, but leave each clove in its own skin.
Place the meat in a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid -- a cast-iron cocotte is ideal. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pepper, place the garlic around it, and pour the wine into the pot. Cover and slip into the oven.
Cook for 4 hours, flipping the meat and basting it with its juices every hour or so. If the juices run a bit low -- this may happen if the lid of your pot is not perfectly tight -- pour in a little more wine or water. The meat is ready when it is dark brown and very tender. Serve with flageolet beans (recipe below).
- 300 grams (10.5 ounces) dried flageolets beans (substitute the smallest dried white beans you can find)
- Olive oil
- 2 onions, peeled and sliced
- Stock or 1 bouillon cube
- Salt, pepper
Serves 4 to 6.
Soak the beans overnight in twice their volume of water. Rinse and drain.
Heat a little olive oil in a medium heavy-bottomed pot. Add the beans and onions and cook for 15 minutes, stirring regularly, until the onions are soft.
Pour in cold stock (or cold water plus one bouillon cube) to cover, bring to a simmer, and cook for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the beans are tender but still holding their shape. Season with salt 30 minutes into the cooking, and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper just before serving.
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