A dish for the season – and I decided to cook Roman style baby lamb according to my favourite Italian writer, Marcella Hazan. If you’ve followed any of her recipes, you’ll be aware of the absolute precision she requires – its her way or the highway. Not being too much in the mood for a rigid set of rules, I had a peek in that other Italian tome, The Silver Spoon. Their version was more straightforward although included potatoes and used leg of lamb. Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking specified shoulder, and no potatoes. Both had the option of finishing the sauce with anchovy, which seemed like a superb idea to me. My other Italian reference, the Academia Barilla site, gave several versions of spring lamb cooked the way they do in Lazio and further afield in Italy, so in the end I used the core elements of the dish – lamb, braise, wine, herbs and anchovies – and created my own version, which wasn’t too bad at all!
After boning a leg of lamb (I wasn’t in the mood/shape for all the fat the shoulder would bring to the table), I cut it in large pieces and marinated it in white wine, oregano, and mirepoix ( yes that’s French but it’s all about the flavour). The next day I drained and dried the lamb pieces, and strained the marinade.
The lamb pieces were tossed with some flour and browned well, whilst I brought the marinade slowly up to simmering temperature – this (French method) congeals (blood) proteins that would have leached into the marinade overnight – these are skimmed off, the marinade is also now safe to use in the following braise.
After the meat was browned, a half cup of white wine vinegar, some of the marinade, rosemary, crushed garlic cloves and more oregano were added, and after placing a sheet of baking paper over it – the whole dish was sealed with foil.The vinegar in this braise is the secret ingredient and makes all the difference, it’s also the reason you cover the braise with baking paper and then only foil – otherwise the acid in the braise literally starts to disintegrate the aluminium foil. And then its in your dinner, and that cannot be good.
After about an hour, I added thick slices of waxy potato, and let it cook further. When eventually done, about a half hour later, I skimmed some oil off, and crushed 3 brown anchovies with around a half cup of the cooking liquid. I served it with this sauce, and just-picked rocket and rocket flowers from my garden. A no-fuss Chianti made the meal beautiful and memorable…