People often mistakenly think that if you cook red meat, then it must be paired with an equally dark, robust & red sauce (picture red wine, brandy or port…). In actual fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Take this lamb dish for example. The sauce is built upon a base of dry vermouth (martini) and chicken stock. The comparative sweetness of the fortified wine and the richness of the stock serve to ‘brighten’ the dish and add a lightness which is uniquely refreshing.
I’m the first to hold up my hand up when it comes to doing things traditionally; but I sometimes find that when deep profound flavours (like lamb and port) get piled up on top of one another; a dish can tend to become a little heavy, and even muddy in flavour. If you can lighten something, then I’m all for it – after all, lamb is historically a late springtime dish; so lets put a little of the ‘spring’ back into its step with a gentler approach to its often more formulaic preparation!
I’ve teamed this with a quick gratin of mixed vegetables – cauliflower, green beans and beansprouts; gratinated with halloumi and cambozola. The ingredients here are infinitely variable, but I find the taste combination of the salty halloumi and ‘gamey lamb’ to be one that’s wholly sublime. As long as you chop the vegetables into pieces no thicker than a green bean, you can use any vegetable e.g. peppers, onions, mushrooms, celeriac, courgette; even kale!
One of the principal reasons for the vegetable choice here is carbohydrate content. Cauliflower has a mere 1.5g of net carbs per 100g, coupled with beansprouts at 4.2g and green beans at 3.8g. None of these will ‘break the carb bank’ and all are quick to cook, with a fresh clean flavour that somehow seems suited to this time of year. Because the lamb is slow-cooked in the oven for at least four hours, we want to accompany it with something that’s ultra fast to prepare, yet doesn’t let the side down in terms of flavour or charm. Such a medley as this will therefore ‘hold its head high’ and do us proud in the face of its competition. Who could ask for more?!
Before we commence, just a quick word on the cooking method. Rather surprisingly, slow-cooking is actually the perfect thing for a weeknight. At the right temperature, dishes like this can be left in the oven all day, meaning that dinner is practically ready for you when you get home. If you’ve got an electric oven, then circa 120-130ºc, or 1/2 gas mark if you’re using gas. I have an Aga, so it’s the simmering-oven the whole way for me! As long as you cover the meat to allow for moisture evaporation, you’ll be absolutely fine. It can sometimes be a nerve-racking ‘leap of faith’ to put something into the oven first thing in the morning then to leave it there all day; but believe me, this couldn’t be simpler, and the results will speak for themselves! So give it a go – you won’t regret it!
Now that we’re all set, it’s time to get started! Any cut of lamb will do; I used the old-fashioned but aptly named ‘scrag end’ of lamb. This is effectively neck-steaks, cut still on the bone, which respond beautifully to slow-cooking. If you’re feeling more extravagant than me however, feel free to use leg of lamb, chops or indeed diced ‘mixed’ cuts. The results will be just as delicious, whichever you choose!
To cook the lamb, season the meat liberally then place a heavy-bottomed casserole onto the hob with a little oil. Seal the meat on a high heat until lightly golden on all sides. Remove the lamb from the pan briefly, then tumble in a roughly diced onion and add a sprinkle of dried rosemary (or any herb to your preference).
Once the onions start to soften, deglaze the pan with a whooshing glug of vermouth, enjoying the splendid sigh of steam as the alcohol evaporates into thin air right before your eyes. Then crumble a chicken stock-cube or pour on sufficient fresh stock to cover the lamb once you’ve replaced it into the pan. If you’re using cubes, put the meat back in and pour on enough water to cover the contents (waist-height if you plan to cook this more quickly). Then simply throw in a couple of unpeeled garlic cloves (unpeeled so that they can be lifted out afterwards), season well and place into a low oven as above for 4 to eight hours.
Half an hour before you’re ready to serve, take the lamb out of the oven to check on progress. The meat should be unctuously tender and fall from the bone with the merest suggestion of a wooden-spoon. Depending on how much liquid you like, if there’s more than a cm’s depth, ladle some out (you want the sauce to thicken slightly) and replace the pan lid off back into a hot oven to reduce and for the lamb to develop a delicious thick crust on top. If it’s already there without needing to go back in uncovered, then you’ll have saved yourself a job and you can simply replace the lid and leave it to one side until you’re ready to serve up.
Meanwhile prepare your gratin. Place a knob of butter into a pan on the hob and tip in your topped-and-tailed green-beans ( a generous half-handful per person). Sauté for a minute or two, then add in finely sliced cauliflower (to same thickness as the beans). Then pour on boiling water until the vegetables are ‘ankle-deep’ in liquid, before crumbling in a final stock-cube for good measure. Then sprinkle on chopped chilli (I used x1 red chilli including seeds), to provide a little background heat; then leave to simmer for a further minute. Once the cauliflower is starting to go al dente, sprinkle on a couple of handfuls of beansprouts and top the lot with thick wedges of halloumi and/or blue brie (cambozola). As I say, there’s no need to be precious about the type – use whatever cheese you like or have to hand. Cheddar would be equally good, as would parmesan, stilton or camembert. The world is your oyster. Once layered, transfer the dish to a hot oven for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown and sizzling.
When all is ready, ladle your stewed lamb into bowls and spoon your bubbling gratin all around. Finish the dish with a flourish of fresh herbs (basil or oregano are ideal), then dig in whilst all is still piping hot! From start to finish you’ll find that every last mouthful is delicious! But don’t just take my word for it – give it a go and find out for yourself. Delectable in every way!
Browse this and other recipes by picture on my pinterest page: country walks in ketosis pinterest.
Thanks for reading and bon ap!