One of my favorite chilly-weather dishes is also the homeliest-looking. Seven hours slow cooking a leg of lamb fills my house with such astonishing aromas that my hunger has always overpowered my ability to stop to photograph the dish once it is done…perhaps also because it doesn’t look like much (something like this). The falling off-the bone meat is so tender, it can literally be eaten with a spoon…
The lamb is sublime over celery root and apple puree, mashed potatoes, buttered noodles or crushed new potatoes, along with its abundant juices.
It’s the perfect no fuss, make-ahead dinner party dish that elicits both sighs and raves. It takes thirty minutes to assemble, then seven hours of unattended cooking. I put it in the oven in the morning and plan to spend the day at home working with the lovely feeling and fragrance of this rustic dish. It would make a great alt-Thanksgiving dinner.
This dish yields over 3 cups of rich juices, a kind of concentrated lamb consomme that is a treasure; heat some in a small saucepan and float raviolis or tortellinis in it, for a divine supper. Use it to reheat shredded leftover lamb in the days to follow to forge quick meals: spoon it over crushed new potatoes, use it as a taco filling or toss with cooked pasta, along with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino. Below, it became an impromptu lunch for Ellen Silverman and I when we were working together years ago.
Seven Hour “Spoon” Lamb
This is my revisionist version of Paula Wolfert’s famous spoon lamb recipe. The original was too labor-intensive for my lazy bones and called for pricey dessert wine, whose flavor I successfully duplicate, for cooking purposes, with white wine, wildflower honey and orange zest. If the lamb shank bone is too long to fit in your pot, just saw it to size with a hack saw (see the photos at bottom).
Serves 6 to 8 with leftovers
One 5 to 6 pound leg of lamb (if possible, have the butcher trim off the shank bone)
OR a boneless lamb shoulder, about 5 pounds, tied into a compact bundle
5 heads garlic
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup Cognac or Armagnac
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons wildflower honey
1 or 2 strips orange zest
2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme
A few hours —or up to a day— before cooking the lamb, rub it with the kosher salt. Place on a platter uncovered in the fridge to marinate. Meanwhile, break apart and separate the cloves…
…pulling off any extraneous papery skin; don’t peel unless you want to.
Heat the oil in a large heavy flameproof casserole (enamel on cast-iron is perfect), over moderate heat. Pat the lamb dry and brown to golden, about 5 minutes per side, 20 minutes total.
Pour off fat and add the Cognac. If the pan is very heavy, transfer the lamb to a platter so you can easily pour off the fat and deglaze the pan.
To ignite the cognac so you can burn off the alcohol, tilt the pan so toward the burner flame to expose its contents, standing back as the cognac catches fire. When the flames have died out (within about 30 seconds), add the white wine, honey, orange zest, thyme and the garlic cloves; scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Cover with a sheet of foil and press the lid down to seal.
Roast in a preheated 200′ oven, until the lamb is fork tender, about 7 hours, turning the lamb once halfway through.
Transfer the lamb to a platter and cover with the foil. Pour the juices into a cup and skim off the fat. To give the juices a more concentrated flavor, pour into a heavy saucepan and simmer until reduced by about one quarter, or the flavor is right. Pull the meat apart or slice it against the grain and arrange on a platter. Pour some of the juices over and pass the rest.
If the lamb is too long to fit into your casserole, use a hacksaw to cut off the shank bone.
7 replies on “Sublime (and Easy): Seven Hour “Spoon” Lamb”
This looks wonderful! Can you be more specific about “tilt the pan to ignite”? I understand the concept of burning off the alcohol, but I am having a really hard time understanding what is supposed to happen there….
Sorry I wasn’t clear.
I’ve tried to elaborate on the process: To ignite the cognac so you can burn off the alcohol, tilt the pan so toward the burner flame to expose its contents, standing back as the cognac catches fire. When the flames have died out (within about 30 seconds), add the white wine
Does this make it clearer?
this is a great recipe! i made it with our recently butchered (grass fed) lamb –
as you said, it truly is a ‘fall off the bone’ meat dish 🙂
and that garlic is sooooo successful and melty–i may even add more full heads next time!
may i ask: what is the actual function of the wine and liqueur?
can i leave it out, or substitute water, without damage?
i would love to end up with a more ‘bone brothy’ flavor, than ‘wine flavor’ – if that is possible..
The wine, which is mixed with some honey and orange zest, mimics a dessert wine. When you cook the meat in it, it mellows the flavor, and makes for a very rich sauce. If you leave it out, you need to substitute an equal amount of liquid, either water or perhaps better, broth, which has a little more oomph and body but will allow that pure “bone” flavor to shine.
I realize this is best with a bone-in leg of lamb, but I have a boneless one. Could I adjust the recipe and have it work with it?
I think you could do it with a boneless one. Just start testing for doneness sooner, as bone-in takes longer to cook.
This is an exceptional recipe. I used your cookbook to make it recently but have one question – at the half way mark after 3.5 hours, I checked the internal temperature and saw that it was already 170F. I was worried about overcooking the lamb so I reduced the cooking time by about 3 hours. It still was delicious but it did not fall off the bone. So should I have stuck with the full 7 hours and ignored the temperature? Many thanks from Victoria Canada.