great grass = great lamb

News and notes from John and Sukey Jamison of Jamison Farm, Latrobe PA

Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Holidays!

A great year: 2014
Years ending in 4 have been important to us. In 1984, still living at our first farm, we shipped 3 boxes of lamb via UPS with both us and UPS having no idea what we were doing or where our farm business would go. In 1994, we bought our own USDA Meat Plant, not really knowing how to cut meat and certainly having only basic knowledge of slaughtering and aging procedures. We made this major commitment, knowing it would allow us to listen to both professional and home chefs suggest how they wanted lamb cut, how it should be aged etc. Indeed, a “tasty but rather tough leg of lamb”, she said, sent to Julia Child for Easter 1995 caused us learn about tough meat and to initiate a system to eliminate such a problem. We have always listened to our culinary customers rather than follow the fads of farming production. This simple philosophy has served us well. Sukey and I run the farm, Sukey and I run the Plant, and Sukey herself packs every box of lamb that leaves our farm. It is all very personal to us. We greatly appreciate the support you have given us for these thirty years. Thank You!

So, after getting that off my chest, Sukey and I were thinking about what special lamb package we could offer this year. We always look at offering an item that would be special for ease of cooking and another that would be just elegant. One cut that you can use for a family gathering of loud in laws and another for a special dinner where the only noise would be some “Sinatra” in the background.

We have many chef friends who use our racks of lamb for Christmas Dinner. They are chefs, after all, so they have to do something fancy; our Holidays though, are not always their Holidays. When they have limited time to cook, they turn to our racks as ultimate fast food. With Sukey’s recipe, you can have the elegant rack on the plate in less than an hour.
Sukey and I are having the “Seven Hour leg of Lamb” for Christmas this year. We will have customers picking up lamb at the farm as late as Christmas Eve. So between that, general chaos from the Christmas Rush, the vagaries of errant animals, tractors and hay bales, we lean towards cooking something that we put in the oven and don’t have to think about anything else other than what red wine I’m getting out of the cellar. We always liked this recipe because of ease but, it’s just so tasty. Jean-Louis Palladin had his version. See the story below.

What could be more of a Christmas dinner than a leg of lamb braised with root vegetables in white wine for five to seven hours? We first discovered this method of cooking lamb in Patricia Wells’ cookbook, “Bistro Cooking.” Our recipe is a slight variation of hers.

7 Hour Leg of Lamb

The Seven Hour leg of lamb is a fairly fail safe recipe as after that lengthy braising time, the lamb can be spooned off the bone, very moist, tender and flavorful. Conversely, as Jean-Louis created the recipe for our “Mama’s Stew”, he was very specific that we use only shoulder meat(not leg meat) for the stew meat in that recipe. He emphasized that leg meat would be too dry in the stew recipe as it is cooked for only an hour and a half or so. With a long slow braise of the 7 hour leg recipe, however, the lean leg muscles absorb the liquid totally changing the texture of the meat. It is a great cold season dish that lends itself to celebrating the harvest of all of the ingredients.

Serves 8-10
Preheat oven 425 degrees
6 medium onions, quartered
2 lb baby carrots
1 whole head garlic, peeled and halved
6 bay leaves
1 bunch fresh thyme if available(dried can be used)
1 bunch fresh basil if available(dried can be used)
1 leg of lamb(semi boneless) 4-5lb
Salt and ground pepper to taste
2 bottles white wine
4 lb red potatoes, peeled and quartered
5 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or 1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
2 cans drained cannellini beans(optional)

  1. Layer  onions, carrots, garlic, bay leaves, spices on bottom of large roaster pan. Place lamb on top of vegetables. Roast uncovered for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and season generously with salt & pepper. Return lamb to oven uncovered and roast 30 minutes more.
  2. Remove roaster pan from oven. Place on stovetop. Slowly pour wine over the lamb, cover and  bring to a boil. Return roaster to oven and continue cooking at 325 degrees for 4-5 hours, until lamb is very tender and easily pulling off the bone. Timing will vary according to size of leg. Reduce heat and add more liquid if too much evaporation.
  3. During final hour, add and bury tomatoes and potatoes in liquid. Add beans final ½ hour if using. The lamb  should be very moist, tender and falling off the bone. As the French have said, “you should be able to eat it with a spoon!”

Our good friend, Chef Mike Ditchfield of the Pennsylvania College of Technology, School of Hospitality, in WilliamsportPA, likes to tell the story of his first meeting with our friend and mentor, Jean-Louis Palladin. Jean-Louis also had a recipe for a seven hour leg of lamb in “Art Culinaire” #29, with which Mike was familiar. As a visiting chef at Penn College, Jean-Louis, immediately upon arrival at the college went pheasant hunting with the President. Mike with his crew of students was expecting to do prep work all morning, learning at the foot of the master. Jean-Louis being Jean-Louis, finally arrived at about 11:00 am and then decided the young crew of students needed braised pheasant for the family meal. Jean-Louis was seen happily breaking pheasant necks and then deglazing the dish with a fancy Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, which had been saved for the VIP dinner, while the regular prep work was in progress. Mike, seeing Jean-Louis enthusiastically running through the kitchen working with his new audience, was searching for small talk with this famous Michelin chef. Amazed that this icon was first concerned with feeding the students, Mike uttered, “Chef, only you and my mother could get away with cooking a leg of lamb for seven hours!”

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