It's getting on spring and the weather is just teetering on nice, which for me is very exciting. I love springtime and summer, though in terms of food, those seasons tend to get me eating less than in winter. I think this is a pretty universal condition, craving less, fresher food in the summer and more warm and fatty food in the winter.
This is a little bit of an issue with the Cooking Les Halles project, since so much of it is "wintery" food: braises, stews, fatty cuts of meat, and all that. So, during the first weekend of March, which was (though I didn't know it then) one of the last cold weekends of the season, I decided to make the ultimate winter food: a big old lamb stew, or daube provençale.
Daube provençale takes a bone-in cut from a lamb's neck. I was worried about being able to find such a cut around, but as luck would have it the local Whole Foods does indeed carry locally raised, bone-in lamb neck cuts in 1.5 lb packages. I have to say, with all the crap that Whole Foods gets, it is a great place to find what you need, when you need it. Anyway, I picked up the neck and a few needed veggies, and headed home to stew.
Cuts of lamb neck
First, I browned the lamb in a dutch oven, using a mix of olive oil and butter.
After the lamb was browned, I set it aside and replaced it with half a pound of bacon.
It is pretty weird to be sauteing bacon in oil and butter... doesn't it have enough grease?
Once the bacon got crispy, I poured most of the liquid bacon grease, oil and butter mix into a bowl to discard later (never pour bacon grease down the drain!) and sauteed an onion, some celery and two chopped garlic cloves in the remaining fat. Once caramelized, I added some tomato paste, a little flour and some wine to scrape up the fond. This got taken to a boil, and reduced by half. Next, I added a cup of my reserved veal stock ('memba that?) and some demi to the pot. Finally, the rest of the ingredients--lamb, carrot, bouquet garni, some orange zest, and the bacon--went into the pot.
I simmered the stew for 90 minutes while I peeled potatoes. The recipe says that you should peel and "turn" the potatoes, which means cutting them into small football shapes. Or, just cube them. Uh, yeah, football shapes? I cubed them. After the 90 minutes, and plopped the potatoes into the pot to stew for 15 minutes. Then I served the stew in big old bowls.
This was nothing mind blowing, but it was a very tasty winter stew, with great hearty potato and meat flavors. It was especially satisfying to gnaw the lamb meat off of the neck bones, and poke out the tiny bit of softened marrow that was in there. It was a great way to say good bye to winter, and I'm looking forward to making more dishes in the spring.
Lessons Learned: Not too many, though this did reinforce the fact that meat on the bone is best for wintery stews. Tony calls those who prefer boneless "poor deluded bastards," and I'm inclined to agree.
Next Week: It's Easter! And I have cooking duty for Easter dinner. Wait and see what I have in store... main dish by Tony Bourdain, sides by Thomas Keller, and dessert by Dorie Greenspan. Let's hope it's as delicious as I think it's going to be.