This dish was inspired by one we enjoyed at Les Papilles, a very small restaurant in the Latin Quarter of Paris, which we visited on a recent trip. “Les papilles” means “taste buds”, and how appropriate that is. The menu is completely set. No choices. It’s Chef’s taste buds that are the decision-makers, not those of us peasants who dine there. Chef prepares the food each day according to what looks good at the market and his own preferences. Diners take it or leave it. We took it. We attempted (futilely, I might add), to order a bottle of champagne to start the evening. Non. Non? Non. Well then, oui, we will just enjoy this lovely white burgundy you have selected for us. And so it went. We proposed, they declined. Firmly. And the meal was absolutely outstanding.
I came away with the photo from my phone shown below, and a burning ambition to recreate the dish.
So, I reverse-engineered the thing and voila! The version from Les Papilles featured lamb shoulder, which is impossible to get in the Cape, so I substituted leg of lamb. Boneless leg of lamb. One can rarely get bone-in here, either. Sigh. Fortunately, I had some frozen home-made lamb stock from a previous leg of lamb. That made all the difference in preparing the the jus, which is what really makes this dish stand out.
Mine doesn’t look quite as purrty as the original, but it was absolutely delicious. The lighting was better at the restaurant, she says, a tad defensively. I made four courses for the dinner party at which this dish made its appearance, and by the time it was ready to serve darkness had fallen. As you can imagine, it requires a bit of last minute assembly, and with guests sitting at the table I declined to do a lot of fiddling around, staging the dish, playing with the camera angles and lighting. I don’t have studio lights at the Cape (yet… heheh), so it was catch as catch can with the lighting for final photo. C’est la vie. When I make it again, I’ll take a better shot and update the photo.
Bon appetit, everyone.
- 1 large leg of lamb (5–6 lbs)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 onions, thickly sliced
- 8 whole garlic cloves, peeled
- 4 carrots, peeled and cut into 3” pieces
- 3 stalks celery, cut into 3” pieces
- 1/4 c instant blending flour
- 1 c white wine
- 3 c lamb stock, preferably homemade
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 1 large sprig rosemary
- 2 tbsp good quality brandy
- 2 1/2 lbs small yellow flesh, red skin and/or purple potatoes
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lb heirloom carrots, cut into 4″ long pieces of uniform thickness (the skinny ends can probably be left whole; the thicker end will need to be cut in half or quarters)
- 6 oz snow peas
- 1 small yellow or red onion, left whole and thinly sliced into rings
- Flat-leafed parsley, roughly chopped
Prepare the lamb
- Place a rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat the oven to 250ºF convection or 275ºF regular.
- Sprinkle the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large ceramic or cast iron braising pot until it shimmers. Add the leg of lamb and brown it thoroughly on all sides (about 10 minutes). You might want to turn on the fan to remove any smoke. Take your time with this. If you skimp on the browning the meat will wind up that nasty flannel-grey colour we associate with British boarding school fare. Remove the lamb to a plate.
- Drain all but about 2 tbsp of fat from the pot. Return the pot to the burner on medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery and sauté until they begin to brown (5-7 minutes). Sprinkle the vegetables with the instant blending flour and stir thoroughly to coat. Add the wine and simmer briskly until reduced by half. Add the stock and herbs. Bring the pot back to the boil. Return the lamb to the pot, tucking it down into the juices. Ideally, the lamb should be immersed to about halfway up its sides. Bring back to the boil, then put the lid on and put the lamb into the oven. Leave for about 5 hours, turning it occasionally. You’ll know its done when a fork inserted meets very little resistance.
- Remove the lamb to a plate, cover with foil and several tea towels or a blanket to keep warm.
- Increase the temperature of the oven to 350ºF convection or 375ºF regular.
- Arrange the potatoes in a 3 1/2 quart gratin pan or shallow braising pan. Drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Shake thoroughly to coat. Roast in the oven until golden brown and tender (about 40 minutes).
- Arrange the carrots on a large, parchment lined rimmed baking sheet. Leave some room to add the snow peas later. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil and salt them lightly. Tightly cover the baking sheet with foil. The idea here is to roast/steam the carrots so they retain their bright colour, but pick up the additional flavour that results from roasting rather than steaming them. After the potatoes have been in the oven for about 15 minutes, add the pan with the carrots and roast until tender (about another 25 minutes). About 5 minutes before they’re done, add the snow peas to the baking sheet, recover it with foil and return to the oven. This way all the vegetables should be done at the same time.
- Meanwhile, make the jus. Strain the juices from the braising pot, discarding the vegetables and herbs. Use a fat separator to remove the fat from the stained liquid, and place the defatted liquid into a 4 quart pot. Add the 2 tbsp brandy and bring the jus to a boil. Simmer briskly until reduced by about a quarter. If needed, whisk in some additional instant-blending flour to thicken it up.
Prepare the presentation
- When the potatoes, all the vegetables and the jus are ready, remove the potatoes and vegetables from from the oven. Pour the jus over the potatoes, until just the top of the potatoes are peeking out. Reserve about half a cup of jus to drizzle over the meat at the end. Arrange the carrots and snow peas in alternating colours around the perimeter of the pan, perpendicular to the rim, like the numbers around an analog clock. Slice the lamb or divide into chunks and arrange down the centre of the pan from one end to the other. Drizzle the remainder of the gravy over the meat and garnish with the onion rings and the parsley. Serve immediately.
- To peel garlic cloves that need to be left whole, place the unpeeled individual cloves on a cutting board. One at a time, place the flat side of a large carving knife over the clove and give it a good whack with the heel of your hand, flattening and slightly squishing the clove. Then remove the peel. It comes off quite easily and the slightly smushed clove stays largely intact. Good enough!
- Prep Time: 30
- Cook Time: 360
- Serving Size: 6
Here are some sources for the bits and pieces of equipment I mention in this post. The Copper gratin pan is available from Williams Sonoma. A good-sized fat separator is available from Amazon. I use a Lodge L-series braising dish and love it, but it’s sadly discontinued. Le Crueset and Staub are also excellent choices.