Lamb

Lamb Noisette with Celeriac Puree, Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Red Wine and Mint Sauce

There are usually two options at each stage of cooking. Firstly, there will be an easy, but satisfactory, method. Alternatively, there will be a far more complicated, difficult, and time-consuming technique available to you. This will usually produce a better result, but one that is in no way proportional to the efforts you have put in. Think of it as the preparatory equivalent of eating quail as opposed to chicken, but with a diminished reward for your struggle. As you might have been able to divine from David’s posts, we always take the second option when preparing a Mallards Meal. This was somewhat codified in the Third Rule of the Mallards:

If it can be sieved, it shall be sieved

We formalised this midway through the second meal, at which point we had passed bread sauce, celeriac, and pesto through a fine gauze. Clearly we have decided that fine dining means a total lack of texture. This worked spectacularly badly for the rhubarb mousse, where the only visible ‘improvement’ was the unambiguous splitting into a pink juice with white clouds.

As we were doing The Spring Meal, I felt that lamb would need to be a central dish and decided that noisettes would be the way to go. In order to elevate them above being merely a roll of lamb, I decided to stuff them with something. My initial thought had been to use diced whelks, but unfortunately due to the allergies of our guests, shellfish was out, and I didn’t feel like risking it with normal snails. In the end I used a fairly simple stuffing of diced kidneys, shallots, anchovy paste, smoked garlic and wild mushrooms. Next time I’ll throw in a few sweetbreads as well, but the stuffing was well received, albeit without the offal being revealed (I find that women in particular can be particularly squeamish about the idea of eating an organ).

Butchery

The problem I was faced with was how to get the stuffing inside the noisettes. Once the thing’s rolled and sliced into a wee disk, there’s actually very little you can do with it that won’t end up as a total mess. Clearly the only reasonable thing to do here was to purchase two whole loins of lamb and butcher them down myself, despite the protests of both Tom and the staff at Hedges (our preferred butcher). Preparing noisettes isn’t the most challenging feat of butchery, but I won’t pretend it’s simple, either. First you need to bark the meat – this is removing the outermost, yellow layer of fat from the loin. You need to do this now so you have something to grab onto and the meat won’t come off with it. When cooking noisettes, they are only ever heated for a very short period of time (traditionally) so there isn’t a chance for a lot of the fat to melt into the meat, so you want to get a very fine layer of fat left so you don’t end up with something inedible on the plate. First cut an incision along the spine, just deep enough to be able to peel back a thin layer of the yellow fat. Insert your boning knife under the skin here, and cut the topmost layer of fat away from the rest of it, pulling the fat back as you go. Eventually you will have one large sheet of lamb’s fat from each side of the loin. These are pretty useless and you should probably just throw them away. Hopefully you’ll have been able to do this better than either David or myself did and you won’t have a visible flap on your finger from a slip of the knife.

Turn the loin over. If your butcher’s been good to you, he won’t have pinched the fillets out of the middle, and you can almost roll these sausage-shaped pieces of very tender lamb out. Next you need to remove the large pieces of meat from the ribs. If you look at them end on, you’ll note that this is the meat in the centre of loin chops. This is best done by pulling the meat towards you and running the knife along any flesh connecting it to the bone. Remove the remaining fat from the bones as well. Hopefully this should be a single sheet without too many holes in, if not the next part could well be impossible.

Lay the fat out flat with both pieces of meat running along it. Put your stuffing between the two, and roll the whole thing into one large sausage. Tie the meat with string at regular intervals, ideally one piece of string in the centre of each noisette that you will be making. Slice the roll between the strings.

Cooking

We’re very lucky to have recently acquired a water bath and vacuum sealer. This makes cooking wonderfully easy in many ways, but it does also change the way you cook. Those of you familiar with the principles of sous-vide cooking will know that you essentially poach food in plastic bags, at a very low, very precise temperature for a prolonged period of time. As there’s no air or moisture in the bag, all of the flavours stay contained within the food, and you get incredibly juicy, tender meat. However, this also means that if you were to put garlic or mint into a bag with the meat, it would actually burn the flavour into the meat in one specific location, producing a fairly unpleasant flavour. In traditional cooking, this is frequently avoided by infusing butter with the herb and using that to cook the meat in. Butter, however, is the enemy of good sous-vide meat. If you put butter in your bag, the fats will dissolve a great deal of the flavour of the meat, and you inevitably end up discarding a great deal of the taste. In the end I opted to fry the lamb off in mint butter after cooking the meat at 52 degrees for a few hours (lamb is a very tender meat and doesn’t need that long, compared to, say, 72 hour beef). This didn’t have enough mint flavour in my opinion, and I would crush the mint leaves a great deal more in future.

I had used the bones left over from butchering the lamb to make a simple stock, and reduced this with some red wine into a jus, very delicately infused with mint. The lamb was placed onto the celeriac puree, surrounded by a ring of sauce, in turn encompassed by microscopic purple sprouting broccoli I had cooked in almond butter sous vide (while for meats, butter removes flavour, for vegetables it imparts it).

Recently I have developed a technique for frying meat off post sous-vide that would probably make most chefs balk. Essentially, you’re trying to get a crust, and make food that’s being cooked very quickly taste like it has been fried (essentially smuggling your cooking ‘cheat’). I achieve this by making a cast iron pan incredibly hot, then throwing some butter in. I allow the butter to start to burn slightly in the pan, then fry the meat. This imparts a very nice, subtle charred taste, achieving the sensation of being cooked far quicker than normal frying. Obviously this only really works because the meat is safe to eat as it’s already been cooked, but I think it’s a fairly useful shortcut that actually produces some top-notch results. It does have the slight downside of producing an ungodly amount of smoke, but it’s a small price to pay for ‘cheating’ the Maillard Reaction.

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