Monthly Archives: December 2013

Happy Sprouts

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My childhood memories of sprouts are not happy ones. My family’s traditional approach meant Christmas sprouts went on the boil in late November, and were little flaccid bags of sour farty nastiness. They have since been rescued from my hate list by pancetta, which improves just about everything, except perhaps ice cream.

This is based on something that Him What Knows dishes up on a regular basis, although I confess I don’t have the original recipe. Even devout sprout haters like me will be happy after a few mouthfuls of this.

Start by getting a large frying pan going at a low heat, and gently frying 75g of pancetta, stirring occasionally. Nowt of that foreign muck? Just some sweet cured belly bacon will do.

Wash 600g of Brussels Sprouts and slice off the stalks and any icky bits. If you slice off too much stalk, the sprout will come to pieces.

By now the pancetta should be well on its way to being golden, crispy and oozing out most of its fat, so boil the sprouts in a small saucepan of water until you can pierce one with a skewer. Expect a reasonable amount of resistance: they’ll keep cooking in their own heat and they’re due for more in the frying pan.

Drain them and add to the frying pan, along with 200g cooked chestnuts (you can purchase these in handy vacuum sealed bags), 25g butter, a generous grind of pepper and a pinch of salt. Raise the heat slightly, and fry for five minutes, stirring from time to time. Quite a lot of gunk will build up on the bottom of the pan, so deglaze with around 30mL of Vermouth, which will be absorbed quite rapidly, before transferring to a warmed dish to serve.


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Root Veg

Here’s what goes with the slow roast lamb shoulder. In terms of timing, it’s quite forgiving.

  • 600g parnsnips
  • 600g carrots
  • salt, pepper
  • 2tbsp honey

Wash and scrub the veg thoroughly, but I wouldn’t bother peeling them. Quarter them lengthways: you want pieces of roughly equal thickness, so slimmer roots can just be halved or trisected if your knife skillz are up to it. Some parsnips have very thin spindly ends, which will burn, so chop them off.

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, and add the carrots. After five minutes add the parsnips. After another five minutes try piercing a piece of carrot with a metal skewer. If you can, albeit with a little resistance, then they’re done.

Drain the veg and then tip them into small baking dish (one or two layers) and add 25g fat: duck fat or butter is preferable; lard or vegetable oil in an emergency. Toss them around with a spoon to get them coated, and season lightly. You can now set aside, at room temperature, for as long as you need.

If, like me, you’re doing lamb at Gas 2, then pop them in an hour before the lamb is done. When I remove the lamb, I then crank the oven up to max, and also remove this dish, so I can pour over the honey, toss again to coat, and then return to the oven for another fifteen minutes. That way they’re done at the same time the lamb has finished resting. Do keep an eye on them, as the honey glaze can burn quite rapidly.

Otherwise about half an hour on Gas 5 (190°C, less in a fan oven) basting with the honey after fifteen minutes.


Slow Lamb III

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There are variants of this published elsewhere, but with timings, temperatures and instructions that simply don’t work for me. I blame publishers’ timetables and the lack of decent testing and copy editing, rather than the authors.

Anyway, this is a handy dish as you get the meat and spuds out of the way up front, giving you a chance to get on with everything else. The layer of skin, fat and connective tissue on top, combined with the steam from the stock below, will keep the meat moist for the long cooking period.

To feed six you will need:

  • a whole shoulder of lamb, bone in: this will be around two kilos
  • a kilo of potatoes: the floury sort, e.g. King Edward, work the best
  • one large or two medium brown onions
  • a whole head of garlic (or more if you want)
  • a fistful of herbs (fresh thyme is best, however, if you use rosemary, then just half a dozen stalks, as it’s a bit of a bully)
  • around 800mL stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • salt, pepper, bay leaves

Start with the spuds. You’ll need to peel them and slice them to around an eighth of an inch in thickness. I use a mandoline for this. Ditto the onion. Put a layer of potatoes at the bottom of a large roasting tin, then the onion in a single layer, a couple of bay leaves, and a grind of pepper, and just a touch of salt. Continue to layer the potatoes on top: it needs to be even but not pretty. The combined potato and onion layer should be around an inch deep in total. Pour over the stock, it should almost, but not quite, cover the potato. (Just top up with water if you don’t have enough stock.) Spread the herbs in a layer on top of the potato.

Pre heat the oven as high as it will go.

Use a sharp knife to score the very outside of the joint in five or six long cuts, about two inches apart. (That’s the convex side, with membrane or possibly skin depending on how real your butcher keeps it.) Rub some salt into the cuts. Dismember and peel the garlic, and using a sharp knife, make holes in the underside (that’s the concave side) of the joint, and insert the garlic cloves. Or, if you’re feeling lazy, just spread the cloves on top of the herbs.

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Put the whole lot in the oven, leaving it at maximum for five minutes before reducing to gas mark 2, which is around 150°C in my oven. Fan ovens probably need to be around 135°C.

It will need five hours. Check every hour or so, and don’t be afraid to top up the liquid if it seems to be drying out. It is almost impossible to overcook this, the risk is undercooking. After about two hours the stock should be glooping gently, and the joint softly hissing at the fat runs out from under the skin and gently bastes the meat. At the end of the fourth hour, slide a skewer into the thickest part of the joint. If you’re met with a lot of resistance, you may need to turn the oven up a notch.

(If you just happen to have about a kilo of parboiled carrots and parsnips tossed in a couple of tablespoons of duck fat or butter, and lightly seasoned, slide them into the oven on the shelf beneath the meat at this point.)

By the end of hour five, a skewer inserted into the thickest part of the joint should meet with no resistance at all, and the job is done. Remove the tray from the oven, cover with foil, and leave to rest for twenty minutes.

(The theoretical carrots and parsnips should be removed, doused with two tablespoons of honey, tossed, and returned to the oven, set again to maximum, whilst the meat rests. Sprouts with pancetta and chestnuts would complete the picture.)

Dish up. You should be able to carve the lamb with a spoon. Try not to fight over the potatoes.