Wednesday, 27 April 2011

An Easter Feast(er). Part 2 - Roast Lamb stuffed with Saffron Rice

As promised, round two of the Gastrolad Easter menu has arrived. Aside from a decision to serve lamb, this isn't really Easter themed, in-fact serving moorish style food on Easter Sunday could possibly be considered blasphemous in some quarters. However, at team Gastrolad we are a model of open minded multi-culturalism and despite the odd voice of dissent - the brother was scandalised that no potatoes were going to be involved - my plan was met with approval.

It is traditional throughout Europe to serve new season's lamb on Easter Sunday. However, judging by the size of the lambs in the fields at the back of our house, it's still a bit early to be sending them off to the abattoir (good article in the FT elaborating on this point) and you would be better to wait a few months yet before tucking in. But the local butcher did have some excellent hogget in (a lamb becomes a hogget on its first birthday, but I will keep referring to it as lamb to avoid confusion) so it wasn't necessary to switch to beef, which according to a newspaper report I read somewhere, has actually overtaken lamb as the most popular Easter Sunday lunch this year.

I like a simple roast leg of lamb with mint sauce as much as the next man, but this 'Roast Shoulder of Lamb stuffed with Saffron Rice' is delicious and makes a great impression if there are a group of you celebrating a special occasion. The recipe is from Moro, The Cookbook by Sam and Sam Hart (husband and wife), who run a restaurant called Moro in Exmouth Market in London's Clerkenwell. Although it is a fantastic restaurant, I have only been once, but do fully intend on returning at some point. The trouble is, with a lot of good restaurants in London (and plenty of bad ones too), if I find the excuse to go out somewhere slightly smarter than the norm I usually try to go somewhere new, as there are still far too many places on my 'to do' list. But, while I have only been to Moro once, I have used the cookbook far more often and it contains an enticing collection of Spanish and Moorish (i.e. North African and Levantine) inspired recipes.

Making the dish is pretty simple, you just need to make sure to ask your butcher to bone the shoulder of lamb before you bring it home. Although this can be done yourself, it will take the butcher considerably less time and effort, and that's what you are paying him for after all. You will need to start off with the rice and when this is done you can move onto stuffing the lamb...

Saffron Rice (enough to stuff the lamb and feed 8 people):

400g basmati rice
150g butter
10 green cardamon pods, cracked
6 black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
2 handfuls pistachios, chopped
1 good pinch saffron threads, soaked in 6 tablespoons of boiling water
  1. This needs starting start at least 3.5 hours before you want cook the lamb as the rice needs to be soaked first. To do this thoroughly wash the rice three times in successive bowls of cold water. By the third time the water should be clear after you have stirred the rice, i.e. most of the starch has been washed off. Then drain the rice, cover in warmish water, add a teaspoon of salt and leave in the fridge for at least 3 hours.
  2. When you are ready to cook the rice, start by melting the butter in a large saucepan, add the spices and leave to fry gently for 4-5 mins.
  3. Drain the rice, add to the spices and butter and coat it in the mixture, stirring for a minute or two.
  4. Add the pistachios and then pour in enough cold water to cover the rice by about 1cm. Season with some salt.
  5. Cut a piece of grease-proof paper into a circle and rest it on the surface of the rice (the French call this a cartouche), then cover the pan with a lid, bring the whole lot to the boil and turn down to a simmer for approx. 5 mins.
  6. Remove the lid and cartouche and pour the saffron and water all over the surface of the rice, trying to do this evenly, so the saffron strands aren't clumped together.
  7. Replace both lids and leave on a low heat for another 5 mins. By this time the water should have been absorbed and you will be left with a buttery, saffron scented rice. 
  8. You can now move on to the main event.
    Note lid and 'cartouche' in background!

    Roast Shoulder of Lamb stuffed with Saffron Rice (serves 8):

    2kg shoulder of lamb or hogget, boned and trimmed of most of the fat and skin
    Olive oil
    1 orange
    Salt and pepper
    Saffron rice
    1.  Preheat the oven to 220 degrees.
    2. Place the lamb skin side down on a chopping board and open out fully. It might be necessary to do a bit of slicing here yourself, as you want to lamb to be as 'open' as you can get it, i.e. cover as large surface area as possible (hope that makes sense!). Then season the meat with salt and pepper.
    3. Spoon as much as the saffron rice as you think will fit, into the lamb.
    4. Carefully roll up the lamb and tie with string (when finished it will look something like the photo below). Don't worry about rice escaping, this is bound to happen, just stuff it back in again!
    5. Brown the lamb all over in a roasting tin, season with more salt and pepper and place in the preheated oven.
    6. Leave for 20 mins at 220 and then turn down to 150 and cook for approx. 2 hours. This is a slight departure from the originial recipe as it advocates cooking the lamb for 60-90 mins at a higher temperature, but I prefer shoulder of lamb cooked for longer at a lower temperature. However, if you do want the lamb to be pink, then cook it hot and short instead of low and slow!
    7. Take the lamb out of the oven to rest for 20 mins before carving, this allows time to make t'gravy (all important in Yorkshire).
    8. Pour off the excess fat from the roasting pan and putting it back on the hob add about 100ml of water. Then scrape all the leftover bits of lamb and rice off the bottom of the tin and incorporate these into the juices and water.
    9. Pour this mixture through a sieve into a saucepan, add the juice and zest of the orange and bring to a boil.
    10. At this point the gravy might be a little bit watery, so to thicken it you can make a beurre maniƩ, which is just butter and flour mixed into a paste. You whisk small amounts of the paste into the gravy and miraculously it will thicken and take on a bit of a sheen. Finally taste for seasoning etc. and then you are good to go.
    11. Carve the lamb and serve with the rest of the saffron rice (you can warm this in the oven or microwave before serving), greens of some sort, the gravy and a little yoghurt (seasoned with salt and pepper). 
    Stage 4
    Stage 5 - browning before the oven
    Stage 7 - just out of the oven
    The grisly aftermath

    There you go, not difficult and a genuine crowd pleaser, Easter Sunday or not. Regarding wine, as it was a special occasion we drank a red burgundy, but you could try something from further south in the Rhone, or reflect the Moorish origins of the dish with a Spanish red, or something from Portugal. In any case something relatively soft and not too tannic.

    Before I sign off, my Mum produced a fairly stunning dish of profiteroles for dessert, so here they are, for your viewing pleasure only...

    This pic deserves a widescreen shot!

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