Gigot de Sept Heures

Seven Hour Leg of Lamb

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Versions of Gigot de Sept Heures developed where there was tough mutton —which once meant almost everywhere in France. Literally six or seven hours of gentle cooking was needed. I am always surprised how long even a leg of mature lamb, nine months old if that, must be poached just below a simmer to become tender. When cut with a spoon, the lamb should fall from the bones, a traditional test for being done. Don’t hesitate to add generous amounts of vegetables to the lamb. They lose a surprising amount of volume as they cook and contribute intense flavor to the pan juices. Despite the large quantity of garlic, by the end of cooking the taste mellows to be scarcely perceptible. To make this a one-pot meal, add some unpeeled potatoes, cut into quarters, about 40 minutes before the lamb is done.

Ingredients

  • one 5- to 6-pound/about 2.5-kg leg of lamb or mutton
  • 12 garlic cloves, cut into sticks
  • 1 large bouquet garni
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 quarts/4 liters water, more if needed

Vegetables

  • 4 leeks (about pounds/675 g total), white and green parts
  • 1 small celery root (about pounds/675 g)
  • 4 large carrots (about pounds/675 g total), quartered
  • 4 turnips (about pounds/675 g total), quartered
  • 4 onions (about pounds/675 g total), quartered
  • 10 to 15 garlic cloves
  • large oval flameproof casserole

Method

Start preparing the lamb at least 6 hours ahead. Heat the oven to 275°F/140°C. Trim the meat of excess fat and any skin (mutton fat can be very strong). Poke holes in the meat with the point of a small knife and insert the sticks of garlic. Tie the meat as tightly as possible with string, as it will shrink during cooking. Put the lamb in the flameproof casserole with the bouquet garni, a large pinch of salt, and enough water to cover it by threefourths. Bring the water slowly to a boil on the stove top, skimming often and taking 10 to 15 minutes. Cover the casserole and transfer it to the oven. Poach the lamb until it is almost tender when pierced with a twopronged fork, about 4 hours. Check it every hour or so as it cooks, turning it and adding more water if too much evaporates. If the water starts to simmer, turn down the heat, as slow cooking is important to a good result.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables. Cut the leeks into 2inch/5cm lengths and tie them in several bundles with string. Peel and quarter the celery root and cut each piece in half to make 8 chunks total.

After 4 hours, or when the lamb is almost tender, lift it out. Add the leeks, celery root, carrots, turnips, onions, and whole garlic cloves to the pan and set the meat on top. Add water as necessary so the leg is half covered. Continue cooking until the meat and vegetables are very tender indeed, about 1 hour longer.

To finish the dish, lift out the lamb, put it on a platter, cover with aluminum foil, and set aside. If the vegetables are not very tender, continue simmering them, uncovered, on the stove top until they almost collapse into a fragrant mélange. Transfer them with a draining spoon to a warmed deep platter, discarding the bouquet garni. Boil the cooking broth until well reduced and concentrated; this may take up to 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If the lamb has cooled down, return it to the casserole and reheat it on the stove top. Discard the trussing strings from the lamb and set it on the vegetables; moisten the lamb with a little of the reduced broth and pass the rest of the broth at the table. You will not need to carve the meat, as it will fall apart into chunks with the touch of a spoon.

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