A fantastic rustic lamb dish, from Jamie Oliver’s classic cookbook The Return of the Naked Chef.
Now that the cold weather has arrived and the days are drawing in, I find myself craving hearty comfort food. With friends coming over for Sunday lunch last weekend, lamb seemed like just the ticket and I liked the look of Jamie Oliver’s ‘braised five hour lamb with wine, veg and all that’. Root vegetables such as parsnip, potatoes, carrots and celeriac are very seasonal for this time of year as well.
I think people worry too much about Jamie Oliver’s TV persona and whether they enjoy watching him or agree with his approach to philanthropic work. The bottom line as far as I’m concerned is that his cookbooks rock. This is the sort of food I like to cook – simple, strong flavours and without too much fussing and fiddling. The Naked Chef is a classic for me; it’s been on my shelf for about eight years and it’s been well used. I no longer refer to a recipe for risotto but the basic template is originally from The Naked Chef. His recipes for spicy roast pumpkin and spinach, feta and pea salad are part of my core repertoire.
I bought The Return of the Naked Chef not long afterwards and I own Jamie’s Dinners as well but the sequels are less well used than the original. That’s no reflection on the books but more because my cookbook collection has grown considerably since then. I must confess I’m a bit addicted to buying cookbooks but, with the recession starting to bite, I’m trying to live a bit more frugally and that means making more use of the cookbooks I have. I came across this recipe when flicking through the book the other night. I’d already decided to make lamb and this sounded like a great alternative to a regular roast.
The recipe: Braised five hour lamb with wine, veg and all that
Jamie Oliver writes: This is a real hearty and trouble free dinner. There’s barely any preparation, just a nice long cooking time which will reward you with the most tender meat and tasty sauce. Large legs of lamb are ideal for this dish as they benefit from slow cooking. If using a smaller leg of spring lamb then consider cooking for an hour less.
1 large leg of lamb
salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 rasher of thick streaky bacon
3 red onions, peeled and quartered
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
2 good handfuls of mixed fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, bay)
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 celeriac, peeled and cut into chunks
6 large carrots, scrubbed and halved
3 parsnips, scrubbed and halved
1 bottle of white wine
Preheat the oven to 170C / 325F / gas 3. In a large casserole pot or a deep-sided roasting tray, fry your well-seasoned lamb in a couple of good lugs of olive oil until brown on all sides. Add the bacon, onions and garlic and continue to fry for 3 more minutes. Throw in your herbs and veg, pour in your wine plus an equivalent amount of water, bring to the boil, and tightly cover with kitchen foil. Baked in the preheated oven for 5 hours until tender, seasoning the cooking liquor to taste. To serve, pull away a nice portion of meat, take a selection of veg and serve with some crusty bread to mop up the gravy.
My Road Test
A note on ingredients: I used an organic leg of lamb, about 2.3kg, and organic streaky bacon and vegetables. The wine was chardonnay. although my rosemary was fresh, my bay leaves and thyme were dried. I served it with crusty store-bought ciabatta.
Method: The instructions were very clear and easy to follow. As I was making this for lunch, I prepared my vegetables the night before and stored them in the fridge in zip-lock bags with a splash of water to keep them moist. Then at 8am, I got out of bed to fry the meat and put it all in the oven, before climbing back into bed for a bit of a Sunday relaxation.
The main difficulty I had was that despite having an enormous deep-sided baking dish, it literally couldn’t hold the lamb, the vegetables and the liquid. I ended up putting about a third of the vegetables and some liquid in a second tray, also covered with foil. At about 11am, I turned the lamb over and swapped some of the vegetables between the trays. Towards the end of the cooking time, I found that the liquid had evaporated enough to allow me to transfer the extra vegetables to the main dish.
Result: The lamb was so tender it literally fell off the bone and you could serve it with a fork or even a spoon. It was complemented perfectly by the wine sauce, which was full bodied but not overpowering and had infused the root vegetables with a wonderful flavour. It was full of delicious bits – fragments of lamb and bacon and herbs and vegetables. There was plenty of food – we had five people eating it (and one person eating a wonderful vegetarian Middle-Eastern aubergine stew from Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat) and although we all had second helpings, there are plenty of leftovers for me to eat tomorrow.
Would I make this again? Absolutely! It’s a wonderful way to cook lamb and quite different to a regular roast. It’s really tasty but also hassle free. Although I did check on it and fiddle with the configurations a couple of times, that was optional. I really didn’t have to think about it after it went in the oven and unlike roasts, the slow-cooking meant I didn’t have to time it precisely either. There was some confusion over the time and two guests arrived a little later than anticipated, but it really didn’t matter that the lamb had a wee bit longer in the oven – if anything, it just made it even more tender and delicious.