Lamb Shoulders in Pot-Pourri

Epaules d’Agneau en Pot-Pourri

The recipe may, of course, be halved; it is convenient to prepare two shoulders because of the way the tied-up melon forms fit so neatly into an oval cocotte, a bouquet garni wedged between them, thus solving once again the sempiternal braising problem of filling all possible space so that complete immersion may be achieved with a minimum quantity of liquid. For a single shoulder it is best to eliminate the cumbersome bouquet garni, substituting a loose bay leaf and a healthy pinch of crumbled herbs and replacing the cocotte with a heavy saucepan.

Boning is merely a highly simplified exercise in dissection; a superficial understanding of the structure at hand and a small, sharply pointed knife are the only prerequisites to a rapid execution (a boning knife is useful because the large handle may be firmly grasped while directing the small, pointed blade, but a sharp paring knife will serve perfectly well).

To Bone a Shoulder

Place the shoulder skin side down (cut side facing up) on the table. It contains three bones: the shoulder blade, a flat, triangular wing with a rudder-like protrusion on the under side; the marrow bone of the upper foreleg, a straight bone with knobs at either end (the dog’s bone of the comic strips); the lower foreleg (shank), a straight bone that thickens and curves slightly as it moves into the knuckle.

Move the joints back and forth several times to familiarize yourself with the structure. Feel with your fingertips the shoulder blade, the better to define its form. Make a straight incision, cutting to the bone, from the point of the shoulder blade at the first joint, moving outward to the extremity of the shoulder and describing approximately the triangle’s median. Fold the flesh back, to the right and to the left, from the bone, forcing with fingertips and scraping with the knife blade. When the upper surface and the borders of the shoulder blade are entirely exposed, feel your way, going slowly the first time, with the tip and the blade of the knife, alternating with fingertips, following the contours of the underside of the bone and trying not to cut through the skin at the point at which the rudder shape approaches the surface. Grasp the freed shoulder blade in one hand and the lower part of the shoulder in the other and crack the underside smartly against the edge of the table at the joint. The bone will not come completely free, but will be torn out of joint so that you may see clearly the points at which to sever tendons and cartilage with the knife tip and where to scrape free the extremities of flesh touching the joint.

Make an incision to the bone between the shoulder joint and the upper shank joint, free the flesh (the marrow bone is simple in form and the flesh offers little resistance except for the tendonous attachments at the joints) and crack the shank joint against the table edge as before; a protuberant extremity of the shank joint often breaks free at this point, but it may easily be cut free from the flesh after the marrow bone is removed. Separate the flesh from the shank bone in the same way, making a circular incision to the bone at its base, just above the hock, to free it completely. Turn the shoulder over and remove all excess fat.

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Ingredients

  • 2 boned lamb shoulders

Marinade

  • 1 teaspoon finely crumbled mixed herbs (thyme, oregano, savory)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup white wine

Persillade

  • 1 clove garlic, pounded to a purĂ©e in mortar, mixed with:
  • Small handful finely chopped parsley
  • Salt, pepper
  • Salt
  • â…“ cup olive oil (in all)
  • Bouquet garni: leek greens, celery branch, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, parsley (plus root)
  • 8 ounces carrots, peeled, finely sliced
  • 8 ounces tender crisp turnips, peeled, finely sliced
  • 1 pound onions, finely sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 cup dry white wine (plus the marinade)
  • Boiling water
  • 1 pound eggplant, peeled, cut into ½-inch-thick wedges
  • 3 medium-size sweet peppers (or 8 or 10 small elongated, light-green Italian peppers), seeded, sliced into strips lengthwise
  • 1 pound firm, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into pieces
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Handful fresh basil leaves, torn into fragments, and basil flowers (or chopped parsley)

Method

Marinate the shoulders for several hours or, refrigerated, overnight, turning them around several times in the marinade.

Smear the interior surfaces of the shoulders with the persillade and seasonings, gather the extremities in upon themselves, forming each shoulder firmly in your hands and turning it over on the table, leaving only smooth skin surface in view; the form should be that of a slightly flattened sphere. The persillade clings to the surface on which it has been smeared and is, therefore, enclosed, albeit imperfectly, within the shoulder, which has been closed up. If another, more plentiful stuffing is used (usually a bread and fines herbes—or bread and persillade—I often add fresh marjoram and egg and chopped beef marrow), the shoulder must then be tied up, the stuffing enclosed, before turning it over. Tie up the shoulders, using a length of about 1½ yards kitchen string for each. Feel your way and take your time; a length of string should be first tied, forcing slightly, around the “waist,” then the form should be encircled in the other sense (vertically) at least four times and, if necessary to hold it neatly and firmly in its melon form, five or six times. Once the first vertical round is tied in place, the top-center of the melon may be used as an apex at which point the string is repeatedly looped and circled vertically around the melon again. It should, in the course of its journey, be looped occasionally around the horizontal round of string, the better to hold everything, un-budging, in place.

Wipe the tied shoulders dry with a towel, sprinkle them with salt, and brown them lightly on all sides in a skillet or other heavy pan in about 3 tablespoons olive oil, over a medium flame—there should be no smoking or burned oil. Transfer them to an oval cocotte just large enough to hold them without forcing, the bouquet garni fitted in between them.

Cook the carrots, turnips, and onions in the same pan, salting lightly and adding a bit more oil if necessary, over a low flame, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for 15 or 20 minutes—until softened but not browned. Stir in the garlic and pack the mixture gently around the shoulders and the bouquet, filling all spaces. Deglaze the pan with the marinade, pour it and the white wine over the meat and vegetables, and add enough boiling water to almost cover the shoulders. Bring to a boil and cook, covered, at a bare simmer for 1½ hours. Remove the shoulders and the bouquet and pour the vegetables into a sieve, gathering the braising liquid in a saucepan. Return the meat, the bouquet, and the vegetables to the cocotte as before. Reduce the liquid in the saucepan, skimming it first several times, the pan kept slightly to the side of the flame, a light boil maintained only at one section of the surface, then boiling rapidly over a high flame, stirring all the while, until slightly syrupy in consistency—it should be reduced by about two thirds.

While the meat and the first batch of vegetables have been cooking, the peppers and eggplant will have been put to cook, salted, in about 3 tablespoons olive oil, over a medium low flame, tossed regularly, until softened; add the tomatoes and the sugar and cook, tossing regularly or stirring cautiously, for about 15 minutes longer or until all of the tomatoes’ water has been evaporated. Add these vegetables to the cocotte, pour over the reduced juices, shake the container gently to settle the contents, and cook, covered, still at a bare simmer, for another hour.

Remove the shoulders, discard the bouquet, pour the vegetables into a sieve, and, when well drained, arrange them on a large, deep heated platter. Clip the strings from the shoulders, place them on the bed of vegetables, and sprinkle the whole with basil or parsley. Skim any fat off the cooking juices and serve the liquid apart in a sauceboat. Cut the meat into wedges.

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