Lamb Cracker

Paper-thin sheets of fillo pastry, which you buy ready to use, can be transformed miraculously into all sorts of impressive creations. At Christmas time what could be more appropriate than a large cracker tie with a bow? This one is filled with an exciting mixture of spiced lamb with pears and walnuts. The cracker can be made well ahead and is perfect for a Christmas dinner party. I serve it with a mixture of steamed carrots and leeks and if possible the yellow-fleshed, waxy new potatoes which you can often find during the winter, or Pink Fir Apple potatoes.

Ingredients

  • 2 lb (1 kg) lamb neck fillets
  • ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml spoon) cloves
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml spoon) allspice berries
  • teaspoons (½ x 5 ml spoon) dried green peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml spoon) juniper berries
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 4 oz (125 g) dried pears
  • 2 tablespoons (2 x 15 ml spoons) sunflower oil
  • 6-8 strips orange peel
  • 2 oz (50 g) walnuts, chopped roughly
  • 13 oz (400 g) can of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 oz (50 g) butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 1 lb (500 g) fillo pastry
  • salt

Method

Cut the lamb fillets into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces. Either in a coffee grinder or using a pestle and motar, grind together the cloves, the allspice and the green peppercorns. Roughly crush the juniper berries. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Cut the pears in half lengthways. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy flameproof casserole over a medium heat, add the chopped garlic and the ground spices and stir for a minute. Add the juniper berries, the pears, the orange peel and the walnuts. Now add the chopped tomatoes and season with a little salt. Heat the oven to Gas Mark 2/300°F/150°C. Cover the casserole and bring it just to the boil on top of the stove; then put it in the centre of the oven for 1½-2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the lamb is very tender. Remove from the oven and leave until cold.

Gently melt the butter in a small saucepan and remove it from the heat. Lightly butter a large baking sheet. Lay a sheet of fillo pastry on it, brush the pastry with melted butter, lay another sheet, brush again with butter and so on until you have used all but two sheets of pastry. Now spoon the cold lamb filling in a piled-up strip lengthways along the centre of the pastry coming within about 3 inches (7.5 cm) of the pastry edges. Bring up the sides of the pastry to join, brushing one edge with butter and then pressing the edges to seal.

Turn the cracker carefully over and place it crossways on the buttered baking sheet. Pinch the ends where the meat ends to look like a cracker. Using a sharp knife, cut diagonal lines across the cracker. Brush one of the remaining fillo sheets with butter and put the other on top. Cut two 1-inch (2.5 cm) wide strips and arrange them gently around the two end of the cracker like tied bows. Fold over the remaining big piece of pasty and make into a large bow to put in the centre of the cracker. Finally, brush the whole cracker with melted butter.

Heat the oven to Gas Mark 6/400°F/200°C. Put the cracker in the centre of the oven for 20 minutes; then turn down the heat to Gas Mark 3/325°F/170°C and continue cooking for another 30-40 minutes until richly browned. Protect the ends of the cracker and the decorations with foil, if necessary, to stop them browning too quickly.

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