MAKE THE PER­FECT...

There is no rush­ing this life-af­firm­ing seven-hour lamb recipe, so just en­joy!

France - - Bienvenue -

Some­thing I have learned since mov­ing to France, and es­pe­cially the south of France, is the value of not be­ing in a hurry. Few dishes em­body this bet­ter than gigot de sept heures, lamb cooked so slowly that it col­lapses at the touch of a spoon (hence its sec­ond name, gigot à la cuil­lère). Served with but­tery po­tato purée, it is the kind of dish that makes me happy that the days are grow­ing shorter and the nights chill­ier.

If young lamb ben­e­fits from be­ing cooked un­til just pink in­side to pre­serve its del­i­cate flavour and tex­ture, the seven-hour method suits the stronger au­tumn meat, tem­per­ing its more ro­bust char­ac­ter. I had come across this dish in bistros for years, but first learned to cook it while on hol­i­day in Lozère, a re­gion of spec­tac­u­lar rocky land­scapes that is famed for the qual­ity of its lamb and beef. Here, the host of our cham­bre d’hôte, a nat­u­ral and mod­est cook, taught me to rub a leg of lamb with fresh herbs, gar­lic and olive oil be­fore wrap­ping it in sev­eral lay­ers of foil and roast­ing it at low tem­per­a­ture for sev­eral hours. Once out of the oven, the pack­age is bun­dled in lay­ers of tea towel to re­tain the heat and juices un­til serv­ing.

Her method, which works beau­ti­fully, is not one I have come across else­where: most recipes for seven-hour lamb call for it to be braised in a tightly sealed enam­elled cast-iron pot. This al­lows for the ad­di­tion of veg­eta­bles, wine and stock, which re­sult in rich cook­ing juices that you can spoon over the mashed pota­toes. Though lamb is the ac­cepted meat for this dish, veni­son and wild boar also ben­e­fit from this gen­tle cook­ing style, which brings out their sweet­ness.

Prob­a­bly dat­ing from Ro­man times and adopted by the Gauls, this recipe grad­u­ally be­came as­so­ci­ated with the Au­vergne re­gion, whose harsh win­ters lent them­selves to dishes cooked in the em­bers of a fire. The seven hours in the ti­tle may have re­ferred to the time be­tween lunch and din­ner, or an overnight cook­ing. Though the name has stuck, some chefs say that five hours, not seven, is the ideal cook­ing time for lamb. Oth­ers cook it for the full seven hours, but grad­u­ally lower the heat to achieve the per­fect tex­ture. In this case, they would cook it for one hour at 170°C/325°F, three hours at 150°C/300°F, and three hours at 120°C/250°F.

A de­fin­i­tive ver­sion of this recipe comes from chef Alain Du­casse, who has a soft spot for bistro cook­ing, even if he runs a num­ber of Miche­lin­starred restau­rants. The owner of the clas­sic bistros Al­lard and Aux Ly­on­nais in Paris, he rec­om­mends brais­ing the meat for seven hours at 130°C/265°F.

Which­ever com­bi­na­tion of tem­per­a­tures and tim­ing you choose, it is hard to go wrong with this for­giv­ing recipe, which was clearly de­signed for the dis­tracted cook.

THE PER­FECT SEVEN-HOUR LAMB Though leg of lamb is the tra­di­tional meat for this dish, the more af­ford­able shoul­der makes a good sub­sti­tute. This recipe is adapted from one by chef Alain Du­casse. The ideal cook­ing pot is made of enam­elled cast-iron with a tight-fit­ting lid, but you can im­pro­vise with a roast­ing tin and lay­ers of alu­minium foil.

• 1 leg of lamb weigh­ing about 2.5 kg/51/ 2lb,

deboned, trimmed of ex­cess fat and tied • 1tbsp olive oil • 2 onions • 2 car­rots • 5-6 slices un­smoked ba­con • 1 bay leaf • 2 sprigs thyme • 1 head gar­lic • 1tbsp tomato purée • 50ml/ 1/4 cup dry white wine • 300ml/11/ 4 cups lamb or veal stock,

or wa­ter • Sea salt and freshly ground pep­per

1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in an enam­elled cast-iron pot and brown the lamb on all sides. Set it aside. 2. Cut the onions and car­rots into small dice. Add to the pot and cook over medium heat un­til lightly browned. Set aside. 3. Pre­heat the oven to 150°C/300°F. Line the bot­tom of the pot with the ba­con slices and place the lamb on top. Add the veg­eta­bles, bay leaf, thyme, head of gar­lic cut in half hor­i­zon­tally, tomato purée, white wine and stock or wa­ter. Sea­son with sea salt and freshly ground pep­per. 4. Bring to a boil on the stove. Cover with a tight-fit­ting lid or three lay­ers of tightly wrapped foil, and place in the oven. (If the lid of your pot does not fit tightly, place a sheet of alu­minium foil be­tween the pot and the lid.) Lower the tem­per­a­ture to 130°C/265°F and cook for seven hours. 5. Re­move the lamb from the pot and strain the cook­ing juices into a saucepan. Skim the fat off the sur­face of the juices us­ing a small la­dle. Bring to a boil over high heat and con­tinue boil­ing un­til re­duced by half. 6. Ad­just the sea­son­ing. Serve the lamb with but­tery mashed pota­toes and the cook­ing juices.

Food critic and cook­book au­thor Rosa Jack­son lives in Nice, where she runs the cook­ery school Les Petits Far­cis and writes about food for publications world­wide.

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