NOTo doubt that you now have the menu planned for Easter and that you have bought what you need. Otherwise, here is a popular Gallic choice: leg of lamb, leg of lamb. It’s a firmly entrenched French tradition, and there’s rarely much deviation. But, to twist the title of an almost century-old song, 50 million French carnivores can’t be wrong.
Interviewing French friends and perusing a few popular French food magazines confirms that the classic Easter menu starts with asparagus, moves on to lamb, and ends with chocolates, usually egg-shaped. A headline read: “Easter without lamb is like Christmas without a Yule log! After a warning not to overcook it (“overcooked, it loses its tenderness and finesse”), 48 recipes for leg of lamb in various forms. Another magazine offered 60.
Not everyone cooks the leg, of course, but almost everyone eats some sort of lamb dish, whether it’s braised with spring vegetables or cut into chops and pan-fried. But leg of lamb shouldn’t be reserved just for Easter: it’s suitable for any special dinner or any occasion when you want an impressive main course. The technique is simple, but the result is very tasty.
Throughout France, the standard way to prepare a leg of lamb, after first asking the butcher to trim excess fat, remove the hip bone and tie it off, is to make a few dozen small incisions on the surface of the roast with a sharp knife. knife. In each, you insert a small clove of garlic, or a ribbon of garlic, if the cloves are large. Then you coat it with salt and pepper and massage the seasoning into the meat. I like to line the roasting pan with a big pile of thyme and rosemary sprigs to flavor the lamb as it roasts.
Leg of lamb and beans is a classic combination, which I admire. In France, small, pale green dried flageolets are a common accompaniment, or fatty dry white coco beans. I often use cannellini or gigante beans. The mixture of rich cooking juices and sweet, creamy beans is quite intoxicating.
Serve this festive combination of leg of lamb and beans all year round, alongside your choice of seasonal vegetables. At the moment, for example, baby carrots or buttered turnips seem perfect to me, as I anticipate the arrival of peas, asparagus and leeks at the market. And, far on the horizon, the Francophile fantasy – ratatouille – awaits you.
Leg of lamb with salted beans
Serves: 8 to 10
Total time: 2 hours, plus marinade
For the beans:
450g flageolet or cannellini type white beans
2 whole cloves
1 medium onion, halved
2 bay leaves
1 large carrot, cut into 5cm pieces
1 whole head garlic, halved horizontally
1 small handful of thyme sprigs
1 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper, to taste
For the lamb:
1 (3.6-4.1 kg) leg of lamb, bone-in, trimmed and tied (a butcher can do this)
6 medium garlic cloves, quartered lengthwise
Salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 medium onions, halved crosswise
2 celery stalks, cut into 8cm long pieces
2 bunches of thyme
2 bunches of rosemary
470ml dry white wine
680 g baby carrots
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Watercress, to garnish (optional)
Put the beans in a casserole dish or a thick-bottomed pot. Add 1.9 L of water and place the pan over high heat. Stick 1 whole clove into each onion half. Add onion, bay leaves, carrot, garlic, thyme and salt. Bring to a boil, then bring to a simmer over high heat and cover with the lid ajar (slow simmering prevents the beans from bursting). After 30 minutes, taste the bean broth and add salt if needed. Bake for about 30 more minutes, but check for tenderness after 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the beans cool in their cooking liquid (you can cook the beans several hours, or even up to 1 day, in advance).
Meanwhile, prepare the lamb: with a sharp paring knife, make 24 small incisions on the surface of the lamb. Using your fingers, push a slice of garlic into each slit.
Generously season the thigh with salt, then sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon black pepper. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and massage oil and seasonings all over the meat. Leave at room temperature for at least an hour. (Alternatively, wrap and refrigerate seasoned thigh for up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.)
Heat the oven to 240C. In a sturdy roasting pan, arrange the onions and celery. Place the sprigs of thyme and rosemary and place the leg of lamb on top. Roast, uncovered, for 20 minutes, then add the wine to the pan and heat to 180°C. Continue cooking, basting the roast occasionally, until the internal temperature reaches 55°C for medium-rare or 60°C for medium-rare, which will take up to 1½ hours.
Transfer the roast to a cutting board and keep warm, covered with foil, for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove onions, celery, thyme and rosemary from roasting pan and discard. Skim the fat from the surface of the pan juices.
Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Taste and adjust with a little water if the cooking juices are too salty.
While the lamb is resting, boil the carrots in well-salted water until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain, mix in butter and keep warm.
Reheat the beans in their broth, then drain, reserving the bean broth for another use. Remove and discard the onion, bay leaves, carrot, garlic and thyme. Place the beans in a warm serving dish. Gently toss the beans with the parsley, chives, lemon zest, olive oil and pepper. Reheat the cooking juices, strain and pour into a serving container.
Carve the lamb and arrange it on a serving platter with the carrots. Garnish with watercress, if desired.
© The New York Times