Seven-Hour Garlic Crowned Lamb

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    6

Appears in

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

By Paula Wolfert

Published 2003

  • About

I wish I had known the French cookbook author who called herself La Mazille, author of La bonne cuisine du Pérígord (1929), a celebration of her native region, land of truffles, cèpes, foie gras, and confit. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and her recipes for poultry and meats cooked to delectable fork-tenderness are marvelous.

La Mazille, whose real name was Danielle Mallet-Maze, set out to preserve the simple country cooking of the Périgord, including its ingenious culinary secrets (or trucs, as the French like to call them). She was particularly devoted to the traditional art of slow cooking. For her, this method transformed ingredients into succulent, easy-to-digest dishes with rich, satisfying textures and robust, complex flavors. Like many of her fellow cooks in southwest France, she believed in the saying “One does not live by how one eats, but by how one digests.”

The following recipe is adapted from La Mazille’s Périgord-style leg of lamb with a crown of garlic. Her recipe calls for a sweet, soft, white Monbazillac wine; I use orange muscat. Either way, you end up with a thick, delicious sauce filled with garlic cloves, which somehow gives off a haunting aroma of hazelnuts. Slow-cooking a bone-in leg of lamb in a covered pot weakens the connective tissues, allowing the meat to break apart easily into rosy chunks with an incredible flavor. This is truly lamb you can eat with a spoon.

First, the choice of lamb: it should be an aged leg without the shank. To age, let it sit on a paper towel-lined rack in a dish in the refrigerator for a day or two before cooking.

Second, and most important, the meat is dropped into boiling water, then simmered for exactly 15 minutes. This firms up the outside flesh, removes unpleasant odors, and destroys all surface bacteria, thus rendering the meat perfectly safe for very low-temperature cooking.

After simmering, the lamb is drained and dried, browned on all sides in a deep pot large enough to hold the entire leg, then surrounded with dozens of peeled garlic cloves, which when cooked have the appearance of golden almonds.

Please don't be tempted to raise the heat. This will only encourage liquid to escape from the meat, making it less succulent.

How to accompany such a delectable dish? La Mazille suggests pureed favas or white beans, or, as spring approaches, a salad of young dandelion leaves.

Ingredients

  • 1 leg of lamb on the bone (about 5 pounds), with the shank bone removed
  • 2 tablespoons oil, goose fat, or duck fat
  • 5 firm heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled (about 60)
  • 3 tablespoons Cognac
  • cups sweet wine, such as orange muscat
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Method

  1. About 8 hours before serving, bring the lamb to room temperature. Fill a 6- or 7-quart enameled cast-iron casserole with quarts water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Carefully add the leg of lamb and boil for 15 minutes. Drain the lamb and pat dry.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Heat the oil in the casserole until sizzling. Add the lamb and cook over moderate heat until it is nicely browned all over. Tilt the casserole and use a bulb baster to remove almost all of the liquid fat. Add the garlic cloves, then add the Cognac and, averting your face, carefully ignite it with a long match. When the flames subside, add the sweet wine and season the lamb generously with salt and pepper. Cover with a crumpled sheet of wet parchment paper and a tight-fitting lid. Bake the lamb for 6 to 7 hours, turning it halfway through cooking. Remove the casserole from the oven, uncover, and let the lamb stand for 30 minutes. Skim off all the fat.
  3. Transfer the lamb to a platter. Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon and arrange the cloves around the lamb. You shouldn't have very much liquid in the casserole, but if you do, boil it down until it's very flavorful. Serve the lamb surrounded by the garlic, with the pan juices poured on top.