“Hon, I’m going to the market,” my wife, Lorrie, yelled from the driveway.
Whether it was her mention of the market or the fact that we had just returned from visiting her folks in Arkansas where, for those of you who have never been, there is no food, I suddenly felt very hungry. Off to the refrigerator where, the first thing that met my eye was a package containing lamb “something” that Lorrie must have pulled from the freezer earlier that day.
The ram to whom this “something” had formerly been attached had lived his days on the Luce Hill meadows of Tamara and Peter Burke until the rueful day, according to Tam, that the little bugger had rammed Peter one too many times – which accounted for the ram’s present whereabouts.
One of the countless benefits of being friendly with the Burkes is that you become the beneficiary of their boundless generosity, an attribute that manifests itself in oh so many ways. Whether it be the fruits of their fertile imaginations, a flat of wonderfully fresh eggs, a pound of organic coffee (Peter works for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters), or, as on this occasion, the gift of meat, it is difficult to encounter Tam and Peter without having the bounty of their lives lavished upon you.
So what to do with the lamb? It looked tough. I would braise it.
There is a defining moment in a cook’s life, a moment when he realizes that he need no longer rely on recipes in order to understand method. At this moment it becomes second nature to him to brown this, sweat that, add liquids, season, simmer and the like, knowing that the pot will do the rest of the work. It is reminiscent of that moment in the learning of a foreign language when the learner realizes that not only is he speaking the language, he has also started to think in the language. I like to think that I have reached that moment as a cook.
Still, there are times when I get knocked off my culinary high horse, as was the case last winter when I went to a farmers’ market in Charleston, South Carolina. It seemed that every stall at the market was selling the same intriguing looking beans, beans the likes of which I had never seen. Some folks called them speckled beans; others, butter beans. I saw a pretty Charleston woman putting four bags of the beans in her sack and asked her what you were supposed to do with them. She looked at me as if I were either from Mars or New England and, in the most exquisite and mellifluous Southern voice responded, “Wha, ya cook em.”
Humbling. Little did I know that I was about to have a similarly humbling experience with the lamb.
The French have an expression about cooking which translates roughly as Put nothing in, get nothing out. It is an admonition to use only high quality ingredients in your cooking. As noted earlier, Lorrie was at the market, hopefully shopping for high quality ingredients. All that I had at home was a big appetite, the lamb and a bunch of produce that had been in the fridge since before we left for Arkansas. Still, I hate to waste food, so I decided to make an end run around the time-honored French precept. I would rely on the freshness of the lamb to carry the thing off. The recipe follows.
Braised Vermont Lamb
(makes no servings)
A big chunk of lamb with fat in all the wrong places
2 stalks of wilted celery, rough chopped
2 carrots in pretty much the same condition, cut the same way
1 brownish onion, thinly sliced
7 somewhat mushy white potatoes, rough chopped
1T chopped garlic
3T Olive oil
salt and pepper
1c red wine from open bottle in fridge
2c chicken stock
Juice and zest of one lemon
One long squirt of anchovy paste
One longer squirt of honey
A handful of chopped mint leaves, those that were still vaguely green
Half a handful of chopped parsley (ibid)
Trim excess fat from lamb
Reconsider amount of fat left on lamb and trim again
Repeat previous step
Season lamb with salt and pepper and brown in a deep-sided sauté pan, using much less oil than you might have thought you’d need. Set aside.
Drain excess fat. Sweat onions, celery, carrots and garlic.
Return lamb to the pan. Cover with liquids and add everything else.
Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook until wife gets home from the market.
Note look of shock and dismay on wife’s face when she sees what’s for dinner.
Allow lamb to cool slightly while wife thaws hamburger patties, cooks them to a perfect medium rare, places them on buns and douses them with ketchup.
Taste lamb concoction. Adjust seasonings. Taste again. Wolf down burgers.
Offer lamb to dog. Dog refuses.
Place lamb preparation in refrigerator for nineteen-year- old son to find when he gets home.
Awaken to find uneaten lamb in refrigerator.
Taste lamb, which, while wonderfully tender, could in all other respects most kindly be described as “vaguely unpleasant”.
Additional method: place contents of lamb preparation in trash bag. Pull drawstrings to close. Carry out to curb for morning trash pickup with no fear that neighborhood critters will attempt to rip open bag.