p1: Gigot d’Agneau a la Pleureur

The Dish

b840179a361e48ef94435b49a7c01546I’m no longer allowed to make ANYTHING lamb when my mother is around, since SOMEONE’S sensitive about it being ‘not as old’ as Mutton… doesn’t matter what age it may be, but nooooo more lamb allowed in the house. So for a particular recipe I’ve been gearing to make for a while, I’ve had to wait for that perfect opportunity where 1: the folks are out on vacation, 2: I’ve got enough time in my schedule to plan and set up a night to cook it, and 3: have the opportunity where I can bring in at least a few friends and family member to make it a fun food gathering, as it should be. Yay me I got a perfect evening on the LAST weekend that I had the whole house just to myself.

And what is this dish? Gigot d’Agneau a la Pleureur. Translated as “Weeping Leg of Lamb Roast,” the whole idea is that it’s indeed just a simple roasted lamb leg… sitting on a rack over a bed of potatoes, so every little ounce of melted fat, dripping juices and other goodies fall onto and absorbs into the delicious tuber as they cook. A full on foray into the indulgence and epitome of a pure meat and potato dish.

Now what’s the history of this dish? Truthfully… there really isn’t anything significant that I can find at ALL. The time that sheep became used often for food in France is the time these roast dinners would have popped up. And there’s no real particular region for this either; it’s famous in Bordeaux, grass-eating sheep in northern Normandy form delicious rich flavors, and the particular Buzzfeed list this came from has it under the southern reaches. So no help there. Not to mention it comes in many forms; the whole ‘roasting over potatoes’ thing is really only just one of a few twists to the preparation next to just cooking the lamb on its OWN. It’s not necessarily THE most traditional form of it, though gotta admit it’s one of the most rustically beautiful and delicious.

One interesting thing I’ve found. The French word for leg of lamb, ‘Gigot,’ comes from a root that means ‘fiddle.’ Rather apt considering the shape. But the thing is this word, ‘gigue,’ derives from Middle High GERMAN term ‘gige.’ Potential past influence via European neighbors/invaders? Considering the potatoes… possibly.

A Word On…

20151213_120924Lamb: This is rather simple, we’re just looking for a leg; so long as you’ve found a favorite and reliable butcher/deli, it’s a snap just to order. Though I doubt you’ll be getting a whole leg unless you’re willing to put down a LOT of money [my partial leg at 5+ lbs set me back 60 bucks], so a partial/center cut section of leg is fine. Just make sure there’s a big bone inside for flavor! That and to make some soup afterward.

Flavor Infusion: Garlic and rosemary are the boss here; there may be some use of OTHER herbs a la thyme, oregano, bay leaf, parsley, etc [mixtures known as ‘herbes de provence’], but truly these are the only two used consistently and to the best, most distinctive effect. Plus you just gotta love rosemary [oh how I wish I still had my pot of it…]. But the main consideration here isn’t what aromatics to use, but HOW to use them.

There are two techniques. One of the more classic and sort of ‘fancy,’ or presentable, ways of doing it is to literally push big chunks of garlic and rosemary INTO the lamb, ‘studding’ it with flavor that will then permeate as it cooks. This is what I’m doing as I’ve been really wanting to try it out for meat flavoring, that and the whole compound-butter-under-poultry-skin thing. The second technique is, quite simply, cutting a big bunch of each up [maybe making a paste with some butter/oil] and rubbing it all over the lamb as a seasoning/marinade. This is used quite often too, and I actually wanted to do BOTH to really ensure an awesome flavor all inside and crusted outside… but of course I didn’t properly check my garlic stocks until last minute. Soooooo nowhere near enough, I get to see what JUST studding will do for me.

Roast Time, Lamb: So, interesting, my favorite super-classic-French-food-‘encyclopedia’ states that a roasting temperature of 425F with a time of 20-22 minutes per lb of lamb yields a perfect pink center. But all other recipes seem to hang at 350-400, mostly leaning towards the latter half, stating 18-20 minutes at MOST for the pink insides. By the way, you want the pink… ‘fully’ cooked at brown throughout, that’s just wrong. You ‘well done steak’ people are monsters, you do understand that right? Ahem, anyways, I’m attempting mine at something close to what my book states, 400F with an average of 20 minutes a lb, of course giving the poke test around that time to see if it’s where I want it to be. With luck, it’ll be beautifully golden brown on the outside and tenderly medium-rare inside!

Roast Time, Potatoes: 2 hour maximum, if not a little less. It’s something that needs noting, as some legs of lamb can go for even longer. In which case, you’ll have to roast it in or over another pan before transferring the taters into the oven at the appropriate time. Which has a great benefit in that you can use the other pan, filled with some lamb juices, fat, and hopefully the crusty fond, to make…

Sauce: There’s nothing really traditional ‘have to have’ with gigot d’agneau a la pleureur, but I just don’t see doing a lamb and potato dish without some good sauce. But in these scenarios, one can’t beat a simple pan sauce. That’s when you’ll take your roasting pan with that beautiful fond in it, or a sauté pan that some of the meat has been seared in, put it over a hot stove and add some wine and, preferably, a related broth/stock. This will dissolve all those delicious goodies from the meat that’s sticking to the pan, adding their flavor, and cook down into a perfectly thick and flavorful liquid. From which one can adjust with any number of herbs, spices, or other aromatics. I ended up making my own last-minute kind of pan sauce with some scraps, a ‘recipe’ which I added after the gigot to give an idea on what you yourself can do at home.

Gigot d’Agneau a la Pleureur
1 Bone-in Leg of Lamb
4 large cloves of Garlic, at least
6-10 Rosemary Sprigs
4-6-ish Russet Potatoes
½ an Onion
Salt and Pepper
1 stick Butter
Pan Sauce [a recipe follows]

Directions

  1. Remove Lamb from wrapping, rinsing off thoroughly in sink, drying just as thoroughly with paper towels
  2. Start cleaning the lamb. With a sharp boning knife, or other delicate blade, carefully slice off as much skin, film, and fat from the surface of the meat as possible, still leaving a bit of fatty outside sections for rending and flavor. Reserve for sauce20151213_120834
  3. On the side, cut each clove of Garlic into 4 slivers and break Rosemary stems into 2-3 solid bunches each
  4. Taking your boning, or some other thin sharp, knife, carefully stab around 16 deep slivers into the leg. Into each of these, force one piece of garlic and rosemary, leaving the newly studded meat to rest at least one hour before cooking20151213_125434
  5. Preheat oven to 400F
  6. Thoroughly rub butter all around the lamb, judiciously seasoning the outside with a light crust of salt and pepper20151213_151505
  7. With a mandoline, slice your Potatoes and Onion into 1/8-1/4” rounds. Layer these in roasting pan with dabs of the remaining butter and sprinkles of salt and pepper20151213_151105
  8. If lamb is expected to cook for OVER 2 hours, set it on a rack over a separate roasting pan, preparing to move to potatoes later on in the baking. If UNDER, rest lamb on rack above potatoes and slide into oven now
  9. Roast as directed, 18-ish minutes per pound, until brown and delicious on outside and almost fully cooked, thus nicely pink, inside20151213_165644
  10. Remove lamb, setting to rest on cutting board at least 10 minutes [w/ foil tent over ideally] before cutting. Leave potatoes in oven to cook further as this happens20151213_170520
  11. Cut lamb into slices after removing potatoes, working carefully around the bone
  12. Plate meat and potatoes together, finishing with a prepared Pan Sauce
  13. Enjoy20151213_171010

Andrew’s Substitute Pan Sauce
Leftover Lamb Scraps
Another ½ an Onion
1 cup or more, as needed, Red Wine [preferably French]
1 Sprig Rosemary, Chopped
1 tsp Capers, Chopped
Salt and Pepper

Directions

  1. Heat a pan to a high, but NOT scorching/smoking, heat
  2. Throw in Lamb Scraps, the cut off fat and skin, letting it sear and sauté for 5-10 minutes with minimum stirring20151213_152335
  3. Once the stuff is somewhat browned and, more importantly, the pan has started developing a fond, remove almost all the lamb and pour off most of the excess fat. Feel free to leave in any little chunks of meat that may have been attached to the fat20151213_152517
  4. Dice Onion, tossing in to sauté in the rendered lamb fat, 2-4 minutes or until somewhat soft20151213_152855
  5. Deglaze with Wine, adding in the Rosemary and Capers, leaving to boil and reduce until the wine has thickened20151213_153923
  6. Remove from heat, taste, and season with Salt and Pepper as desired
  7. Reserve for lamb

20151213_171144The Verdict

I love it when a lamb comes together [get it!? Like the A-team… yeah I’m not proud of me either]. And darn if this didn’t come out… just like I wanted it to. I mean, as I mentioned earlier, the cook-time estimates I found had it go a BIT beyond what I personally wanted; would much rather prefer having more pink, but it was still there closer to the bone. Besides, the not-so-pink meat was still juicy and tender, and damn if it wasn’t full of flavor. Perfectly rich lamby taste, seasoned good… and I admit I didn’t expect MUCH effect from just the studding-infusion of the garlic and rosemary without also having a rub, but they actually gave a notably gentle aromatic addition to the flavor.

THEN we get to the potatoes… a bit on the fatty side of the flavor, so a big plus in my books. Flavors have officially soaked in. But it’s when you take a giant scoop of meat, potatoes, and sauce together that it’s best. What starts off as a fancy-like, seemingly classically haute-dish reveals its highly rustic charms as all I wanted to do was shovel more and more of it into my mouth. I just love when I fully enjoy one of these recipes like so. I could and probably should try to talk about other ‘elements’ of it and execution, but this is about all I want to really say.

20151213_170236Primary Pairing – “Koggen”

One of the epitomes of French Meat and Potato dishes, I’ve gotta use a beer sooner or later [I’ll try not to use one in the next meat-potatoes-ish one]. Something dark, malty, and heavy would do the trick, but I feel anything porter/stout-related might be a bit too much. Which is when I happily ran across a beer in a specialty shop known as ‘Koggen.’ One of the few true German-only styles, it’s a wheat-based style which, if I’m correct, can be seen in the lighter hefeweizen or heavier dark versions. The idea of having something simple and German with this very rich, heavy, and gamy meal felt just perfect, hopefully combining in the same way it did so in my Cassoulette adventure.

My Bottle: Apostelbrau Naturally Cloudy Koggen

To continue, upon pouring of the beer I was able to discover the delightfully malt-heavy flavor profile it displayed. Though I didn’t expect it to be REALLY hoppy, the aromatic greens were barely seen at all except for the subtle support structure you knew it had. The drink itself turned out almost dense, concentrated with that sweet, almost caramelly-savory profile which helps cut through and pair with the perfectly golden-roasted game meat. Part of the flavor make me wonder if I remembered it wrong and that the beer was mostly RYE focused vs wheat, but either way it was good, simple, letting the subtle notes of garlic and rosemary shine from the lamb while matching it’s heaviness. Just rustic perfection.

Bordeaux_1680129cSecondary Pairing – Right Bank-based Red Bordeaux

To be more specific, Bordeaux wine from one of the renowned riverside ‘Haut Medoc’ communes. Those are the ones that actually ARE mostly Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated, creating that image of the big, heavy, tannic reds for which the French region is so well known for. These are also the ones that are so famously known as the drink of choice for one of the region’s most famous dishes… which also just happens to be a giant, heavy roasted leg of lamb. Truly it’s evolved as one of the most delightfully perfect dinner pairings in the world. The bodies match, the heavy tannins work with the chewy game meat in encouraging our own salivation to its limit, and the strong acid backbone cuts through the still-present fat character. Not to mention the very spicy, herbaceous, wild eucalyptus and ‘garrigue’ flavors which were made to compliment the meat just like, and next to, the garlic and rosemary we love so much here. For those interested, and able, look for Boreaux wines with the names St Estephe, Pauillac, St Julien, or Margaux on the label. Those are your best bet, though aren’t always perfect. Otherwise, as money for these bottles isn’t always on the easy end, Haut-Medoc or Pessac-Leognan labels will work too.

p1: Navarin d’Agneau

Tffa22dd9403391d6b99e3d6445b1a0b4he Dish

I was going to do some more in depth research on this week’s recipe, but I’ve written SO much in my ‘A Word On…’ section that I think I’ll just cut this short, for both of our sakes. This week I’m doing Navarin d’Agneau, or Navarin of Lamb, normally a Springtime-ish dish of, of course, Lamb(or Mutton too, but I keep seeing lamb in recipes so there), stewed slowly and accompanied by fresh, sweet spring vegetables. It’s been compared to the south’s version of Bouef Bourgignon, but made with lamb, white wine, and more green veggies.

It’s often popular around Easter time (damn my timing and hunger for a lamb dish this weekend), a time when it developed; likely as a followed enthusiasm for the popular, rich and heavy mutton stews enjoyed in the winter. Once spring comes around, the only meat available is new, young lamb and the lighter, sweeter spring vegetables. These then coalesced into a stew deserving its own name; of which, many have at one point acclaimed to honor the Battle of Navarino in 1827, but more likely an evolution of ‘Navet,’ or ‘Turnip,’ which is and should be used boldly in this deliciously svelt stew.

A Word On…

Lamb: it seems most recipes are rather in agreement that lamb Shoulder cut is the way to go, either as the sole cut or always included in a mix of them. I also found one very traditional-looking recipe that used lamb ‘neck,’ saying that you could cut it into good sized whole slices (not something I’ve seen any neck, unless it was something as big as a cow, able to do, but hey who knows what part of the neck it was from). I of course stuck with shoulder, but as with any stew, any really flavorful and tough section of the lamb would work wonders; parts of the leg like the shank could be as potentially tasty (and even cheaper), one may just need to ensure it gets enough braising time. Speaking of which, I don’t like the idea of using a heavy beef stock with what is a lighter lamb, especially if it’s supposed to be a more spring-time stew. So instead I use chicken and will sear and stew the lamb bones from the shoulder, or whatever cut used, in with the meat.

Vegetables: Despite the humongous potential in people utilizing an insanely large variety of different vegetation in all these different recipes, I actually found most kept to similar lines and made it easy to narrow down exactly which ones I wanted to use as the ‘minimum base’ for a very traditional navarin d’agneau.

First up, obviously, is the Turnip; gotta have this (though some evil recipes tried substituting it out with potatoes, the bastards), followed by the Carrot. We then see two very green elements, Green Beans and Peas. I ended up getting some Haricots Verts, based on an older French strain of the bean, at the store, along with a package of fresh English peas, which wasn’t my initial plan. I was originally going to go for Frozen peas, which are actually one of the best versions one can get in the store due to peas tendencies to have a VERY short life while not frozen. But this seemed a fine opportunity to keep that spring freshness in tender little bites; plus it was fun to utilize (got a lot left over I’ve been putting in lunches and stuff!).

Finally, the Onion, which deserves some extra consideration. I would say, if we’re talking pure and perfect ideal, we’d want to go for “Spring Onion,” which looks like a green onion but with big, bulbous white end (like a bigger pearl onion, but fresh and with the green shoots). I wanted to do this, but of course none in store. If you’d like to keep that flavor and feeling without going to my following alternatives, I’d say try using Leeks. But with that eliminated, favorite course is usually to turn, much like many stews, towards Pearl Onions. Which I was ALSO gonna do, but then I found a bag of Ciopollini, which are very much like the pearls, but like flat saucers, and usually sweeter and more flavored. It might not be classic, but I sort of couldn’t help myself in playing with these guys for that extra special addition! Just note for preparation that you indeed need to let them boil in water for 1-2 minutes, makes them much easier to peel off nicely.

20150706_152609Tomatoes: Most recipes use an addition of tomatoes and garlic to the stew, either in sautéing beforehand or adding raw to the pot just before leaving to boil (I’m choosing the latter, since I feel I wanna keep the ‘fresh’ and seasonal flavor of all the vegetables here). ‘Crushed’ tomatoes are often the case, and whereas one can just as well and easily use some canned tomato sauce, paste, or crushed versions (nothing wrong with that, especially depending on the quality of tomatoes one can find), I can’t help but want to stick to going for fresh. This requires one to then skin and de-seed them, which is often done through a particular staple technique called ‘Concasse,’ my second reason for pursuing the fresh route; I haven’t done tomatoes concasse in quite a while, thought it’d be nice to do it for once.

20150706_144839This involves a few steps. First, the tomato has an X scored into one end, while the core is cut out of the other; this technique focuses purely on taking out any undesirable element of the tomato and only leaving the tender flesh to work with. So the core must go, and scoring will help promote the skin removal.

To do which, we basically just blanch it like the vegetables; pop in boiling water, but really for only 10-15 seconds at the MOST. At one point the skin will start to split from the cut, and this is when it is to be removed and quickly chilled in ice water (though I once saw a French chef who completely abhors the ice water bath, saying it only removes a little bit more of the flavors). From here, one will easily be able to peel these skins off.

20150706_151311

Following up, we have to deseed; which one could cut the tomato in half or quarters to accomplish, but it’s much easier to ‘peel’ the outer section of flesh off with a nice, almost like you’re trying to cut the thick peel off a grapefruit. As you can see, this easily reveals the big clusters of seeds in the core, to which we can easily just scrape off with our thumbs, and any seeds sticking to the very smooth outer ‘peel’ inside curves. Then we can do whatever we want with them. In order to ‘crush’ them, I basically diced my tomatoes as small as possible, from which I used the flat of my blade to push and scrape across the cutting board, repeating the actions of dicing/slicing and then scraping until it turned into sort of a big wet paste. Basically the same procedure to making minced garlic paste, for those familiar, just much bigger.

Wine: White, always white; I don’t think it strictly has to be white or fantastic, but this feels like a dish where using something super-cheap vs with a nice drinkable can make a noticeable difference. So I myself grabbed a decent and fun, not too distinctively flavored (like sauvignon blanc) dry white with some body that I had in my rack for a while and happily drank the rest with family.

Caramelization: We know how to sear by now, but I found a couple recipes, both from my Larousse and others, use an interesting technique that I’ve never heard before. After the lamb chunks are seared nice and golden, one sprinkles some sugar on them, starts stirring, and cooks on high to get an even FURTHER level of browning and caramelization. Basically it’s combining both sugar caramelizationa and maillard reaction (though I bet when they did this decades back they had no idea it was a separate thing). I’ve got to try this now, right?

20150706_155534They also had us dusting flour in too, very standard when making a stew so the stock can turn into a thick gravy when it reduces. Found another recipe thought I’d try that says, after sprinkling in, moving the pot to a 450F oven helps to promote really good browning of the flour evenly without burning (a technique proven well for making really dark rouxs for things like Gumbo, as seen on Good Eats via Alton Brown).

Stewing Strategy: This is where I had the most doubts and annoyances, figuring out what I wanted to do. I mean, obviously stewing the lamb is straightforward; sear it, add the wine and stock, cook on low heat for a few hours. The main issue came in two forms. First, do I simmer the stew mostly on the stovetop or in the oven? I don’t think there’s any classical reason against either method, so I went for the latter; it just seemed appealing to me, and I do like the idea of it harking back to times when one would start a dish like this in the morning, put the pot in an oven/fire all day, and find it ready and waiting come dinner time.

The second and bigger issue came with the Vegetables. There are SO many different little versions of how these are treated (except for the peas and green beans, those are always just blanched and stirred in the last five minutes to heat and finish the light cooking they need); blanched and sautéed golden and added closer to the end, onions and stuff sautéed WITH the lamb in the beginning, added raw halfway through, trying the ‘glazing’ technique on carrots/etc, blanched and non, etc. It got quite confusing. But there are a few factors that helped me narrow down to what seemed most pure for me. Firstly, this is a dish that, to me, really celebrates the feeling of Spring, the natural freshness to ingredients, everything is young and green and bright, so I think I can cut out anything that requires the vegetables to caramelize.

Secondly, in an effort to make sure the colors and flavors are kept to that attractive freshness, I’ll be blanching every single vegetable (again, boiling water for a bit, then shocking in ice water like w/ tomatoes); not sure if it’s really necessary to do this, besides for the beans and peas, but I wanna try it here. This will invariably reduce how much time they can spend in the stew, so adding in only the last half hour or so. And I WILL be letting the stew do all the cooking; I could try ‘glazed’ vegetables, which would be yummy and pretty, but doing so would mean only adding them in at the end, making them Garniture. Which, in itself, is a classic way to treat vegetables in stews like Boef Bourgignon, but I really want some of that flavor mingling happening, and I’ve found a recipe that relies on the complete vegetable cookery with the lamb (sort of an in between stage between garniture and start-to-finish, soft vegetable+meat stews), and they still get that nice, whole, glazed look to them.

Potatoes/Can-I-Get-a-Side Here?: Stews like this can be served with any number of starch; rice, a side of baguette, pasta (like in Coq au Vin), however I’ve been seeing a lot of mashed potatoes under this one. And when I don’t, often there are potatoes being cooked along with or in place of (tut tut, the one recipe buzzfeed has doesn’t even use these? For shame) the turnips. So to keep that traditional, southern French, sort of rustic feel (and cuz I love stew and mashed taters), that’s what I’ll be doing, and what I suggest anyone ELSE does.

20150706_160202Navarin d’Agneau
2lbs Lamb Shoulder, bones included
2 Tb Oil
1 Tb Sugar
3 Tb Flour
1 cup decent White Wine
2 cups, give or take, Chicken or Beef Stock
2 Tomatoes, prepared Concasse
2-3 Garlic Cloves
2 Bay Leaves
1 Sprig Rosemary
½ bunch of Parsley
1 small bunch Garden Carrots
3 small Turnips
8oz Pearl or Cipollini Onions
1 handful Haricots Verts or other nice Green Beans
¾ – 1 cup Green Peas, frozen or really fresh

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450F and set Dutch Oven, Cast Iron, or other suitably heavy duty large pot on medium-high heat20150706_154319
  2. As this heats up, debone and portion Lamb (helps to have a nice boning knife for this) into even, good-size chunks, about 1-2” size
  3. Coat bottom of hot pan in oil and, in two batches, add your lamb pieces and bones, letting sit in smoking hot oil for about 1-2 minutes until deep brown, flipping over and repeating until at least two sides are evenly golden20150706_154538
  4. Remove all lamb to separate bowl (the first half should be here already after finished browning) and pour off some of the fat in the pan so only a couple tablespoons remain20150706_155125
  5. Sprinkle lamb (and bones) with Sugar and transfer back to hot pan, stirring very often, but not constantly, 2-4 minutes, until a deeper caramelization has occurred and coated more of the meat20150706_155244
  6. Quickly dust with flour, stirring to evenly coat, and move to hot oven. Let sit 3-5 minutes to darken further20150706_155349
  7. Transfer back to hot stove, turning oven down to 350F, add in Wine and scrape bottom of pan to deglaze all the tasty bits and fond, letting the wine cook briefly20150706_155730
  8. Add in enough Stock to just cover, and while it comes to a boil, finely chop and crush both Tomatoes and Garlic into a paste of sorts (sprinkling kosher salt on board helps), toss this into the pot along with a Bouqet Garni of Bay Leaves, Rosemary, and some Parsley Stems (just tie them together with string)20150706_160221
  9. Stir this in and move to the now-reduced oven, uncovered, for about 1 ½ hours20150706_145127
  10. While this is going, prepare the vegetables; peel Carrots and Turnips, cutting the latter into 6-8 pieces and carrots as desired, and snip the ends off of the Green Beans. Working one vegetable at a time, blanch each of these, and the Peas, in rapidly boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute (green veggies should develop a nicer, deeper color, carrots should turn a bit brighter, and turnips are a guess) before dunking in an ice water bath20150706_150606
  11. For the Onions, let sit in boiling water 1-2 minutes, let cool slowly and carefully peel off the outer husk so the whole, tender onion is now revealed. Hold this on the side along with all your other blanched vegetables20150706_153057
  12. Remove stew from oven and strain the liquids into a bowl, using the chance to remove all the bones, bouquet garni, and as much chunks of garlic and tomato from the meat as possible. Return sauce and bare lamb to the pot20150706_170047
  13. Nestle and stir in the carrots, turnips, and onions into the stew so they’re all glazed in some sauce. At this point one may need to add just a bit extra stock if it’s already rather reduced and gravy-like20150706_174125
  14. Return to the oven for 25-30 minutes before removing and setting on stove as you wait for service (at this point, the stew can be refrigerated for 1-2 days before the meal)20150706_181133
  15. When getting close to service, cut green beans in half and heat stew up to a boil. Mix in the beans and peas and let cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes
  16. Chop remaining Parsley leaves as fine as desired, add to stew, and serve20150706_183721
  17. Spoon over mashed potatoes, rice, or serve with crusty baguette, and Enjoy

The Verdict

20150706_183829It’s been a while since I’ve felt REALLY satisfied with the results of a stew without having to take extra cooking time and other further manipulations to get it looking decent. Lamb came out tender, the stock reduced into a beautiful gravy, got a nice sear on the meat beforehand (actually loved that trick of adding the sugar, you could really see this deep, even burnish of caramelization spread out through the lamb), vegetables were all tender and still had the bite where appropriate, lending their sweetness while at it quite nicely. And of course the flavor was rather delicious, it all came out quite cohesive, that sort of medium-rich body and flavor depth I was looking for; not excessively deep and heavy like super-beefy, usually red wine-based stews can get to (like the Coq au Vin). The only thing I’d say is that I didn’t get any of the flavor from the haricots verts I wanted; texture yes, but either I didn’t get the best quality to begin with (they looked good though… and came from Trader Joes…), I perhaps did some little screwup on the blanching, or I just expected more than what was realistic; they are green beans after all. Either way, the pot I made didn’t last the night; even if it was bigger, I don’t think it’d last the night. And I’m using my leftover blanched veggies tomorrow in some oatmeal lunchie. God I’m really happy about this after waiting a while since my last French 44 recipe.

Primary Pairing – Beaujolais

I’ll give Buzzfeed props for hitting their wine suggestion in the ballpark for this one; a Pinot Noir (though they really do need to specify further than just varietal, pinot noirs come out insanely differently depending on who’s making it and where). Since this dish is cooked in white wine, and the lamb can come out VERY tender when done well, one can easily argue a case for being able to pair with either white or red wines; but if doing the latter, it should be a rather lighter style, with only a small to medium amount of ‘tannins’ since the lamb has barely any chew to it now. Pinot noir fits well, and is often seen as a nice red with very vegetable-heavy dishes.

20150706_183125But I want to find something better still, which is why I looked to the nearby regions. Did you know that the wine we know as Beaujolais is actually a part of the Burgundy region? Yet it’s so far south, and the soils have changed so much, that it’s almost like an extension of the Northern Rhone? The area and wine almost fits more into the character of this South-Eastern region of France, like this dish, than the NE ‘Burgundy-Alsace-Alps’ mentality (it’s on much flatter, hillier ground). And it fits perfectly with a dish like this.

For due to the result of an often-practiced technique called ‘Carbonic Maceration,’ which I won’t get into detail about, the main grape of the region (Gamay) turns an extremely, almost confected fruity nose, and a palette that is really, REALLY low in body and tannin, the perfect kind of level to go with a stew. It also comes out very distinctly lilac-purply in color, unique! Despite the very expressive nose, the palate rarely has  the flavor to back it up, like many a French wine. Instead it holds structure, for us to better enjoy and quaff down alongside our food. And this almost sweet-smelling, plain savory-bodied, low-tannin, decent-acid wine offers up a great opportunity to consume alongside potentially funky, tender lamb and a butt load of sweet vegetables.

But we ideally need something with just a BIT more character than the mass-market Beaujolais and ‘Noveau’ (-shudders-) that we’re used to, which is why I got…

20150706_182829My Bottle: Chateau Thivin, 2011 Côte de Brouilly

There are three classes of Beaujolais. “Noveau,” the cheapest and lowest quality, made super-fast and as early as possible for the masses of people who got dragged into the hype that THIS is the wine that needs to be consumed at holidays; “Villages,” a little better, standard wine from the region, still focusing almost purely on carbonic maceration and its distinct effects; and “Cru Beaujolais.” These last are wines that come from 10 select villages on the top of the single hill that occupies the entire region, and though they all still use carbonic maceration as is tradition, one sees a lot more further fermentation in barrels, long oak aging, and other more traditional and quality-focused practiced. These result in wines that have similar balance and those unique noses of Beaujolais, but with more depth towards ACTUAL wine aromas and flavors, almost as if they were crossed with a nice Burgundy.

And the best part? For French wine, often really GOOD quality French wine, the prices on these Cru are amazing. I got mine for, what, $16-18, the REALLY good regions can reach up to around $30, and it’s worth every penny. All the money is really from the work and quality that’s going into the wine, and not just the added prestige of what supposedly well-renowned subregion from a French wine region can get you. (why I normally hate navigating Bordeaux and Burgundy; so hard to find something that’s WORTH the price unless you know beforehand).

And this one did not disappoint. A little bit more in terms of savory and deeper fruity, slightly toasty flavors helped to mingle with the meaty lamb while we savored the nose in between bites. The distinctly fake-fruity notes aren’t too forward, so I could enjoy them mingling in with the vegetables as a poignant accent. But I’ll very much be looking forward to enjoying the rest of the bottle on its own for the next couple of days, navarin leftovers or not.

LYONESS 2015-05-19 14_04_33Secondary Pairing – English Cider

This IS a dish cooked in white wine, and really tender when done well, so having a white wine as a pairing is not just not out of the question, but it could be argued as the most desired if you can find the right one. But, since I’ve already used my one ‘wine slot’ for the Beaujolais, time for a substitute. Cider is a substitute. Cider tastes good, and has very similar balances to white wine; not to mention lamb is also quite popular in the UK, so going for English Cider with a dish like this is almost regional. They usually come with a little bigger bodies than some of our really light and crisp ciders we’re used to, letting it stand up to the richer lamb, an acidity to cut through this medium richness, and the fresh apple flavor help evoke the feeling of spring even further. And what’s more, the hint of sweetness carries through with the naturally sweet vegetables. And now I’m wishing I had cider instead of wine… talking about it always gets my cravings going…