My rudimentary photography equipment requires natural light, so, just like every year, I had waited for long months until days became long enough to feature on my blog also the dishes I eat exclusively for dinner. I was particularly impatient to write about this seven-hour lamb roast, one of the most exciting discoveries not only of the past winter, but of my long cooking experience. The arrival of spring means young lamb’s season and its particularly tender delicate meat made this dish unsurprisingly superior to all the previous winter versions I already considered extraordinary, so now I’m even more eager to share it with you.
I kept on reading about seven-hour lamb roast for many years, but somehow I was put off the long cooking process and the limitation to those weekend days when I was certain to stay at home. Meanwhile, I never managed to get my lamb roasts right: they ended up too dry and slightly tough at the same time. I don’t remember why, but one Sunday I simply decided to give the slow method a go. I added my usual lamb seasoning, briefly browned the meat and then put it into the oven for the whole day. The result went well beyond all my expectations: I had never tasted so amazingly tender lamb! Moreover, it’s so effortless… Now I cannot imagine roasting it in any other way. While I am still fond of briefly grilled rare cutlets, when it comes to roasts, the seven-hour lamb is the incontestable winner.
TIPS: You can use here any lamb cut, as long as it’s not too lean. My favourite are those with bones (shoulder or leg) which largely improve the flavours. Lamb is quite fatty, so I must admit I cut off most of the visible outer fat and, in spite of this, the result is juicy and tender.
Slowly cooked lamb “melts” much more than a quick roast, so you need to buy more meat. Moreover, if you buy meat with bone for the first time, it’s difficult to say how many portions you will obtain. It depends on the size of the bone (I often buy half a leg and if it’s the lower part, it often has more bone…), on the amount of fat, which will partly melt and partly be left aside (see above), on the side dishes (if you serve potatoes and not a salad, obviously you’ll eat much less…), on the starters… and most of all on your appetite! It’s always better to ask your butcher or even safer, to buy more and then reheat the rest another day (it’s delicious warmed and then eaten in a sandwich with chilli sauce/chilli jam – and pickles).
I always roast lamb in a casserole (aka Dutch oven) which is also adapted to stovetop cooking, but if you don’t have it, brown the meat in a pan and then transfer to a baking dish with a lid.
Most people swear by cooking lamb with white wine, but I have noticed that both red and white wine are good, though I wouldn’t advise very tannic red wine with young lamb’s delicate meat. The wine has to be drinkable, not corked, etc., but keep a good bottle of wine to drink afterwards. (I only drink red wine with this hearty dish).
Make sure there is plenty of liquid in the casserole. The “sauce” shouldn’t be as thick as with a normal roast (in my opinion, it’s best very “thin”…).
This is a highly garlicky and fiery version, so if you are a moderate garlic eater and aren’t used to hot flavours, cut down on both.
Preparation: 7 hours
Ingredients (serves three – four, but the portions depend on many things, see the TIPS above):
1,3-1,4 kg (2.8-3 lbs) lamb shoulder or leg, both with bone (if you buy a cut without bones, 1 kg should be enough, but it depends on many things, see the TIPS above); if the cut is covered with a thick layer of fat, count even 1,5 kg or more
1-2 heads of garlic
a couple of dried red chillies, deseeded
2 glasses (2×100 ml) dry wine (white or red)
rosemary, thyme, powdered garlic, salt, powdered chilli
300 ml (about 10 oz) chicken/vegetable stock or water
I always start by cutting off a big part of the outer meat fat, but you can keep it of course.
Peel the garlic cloves. Take five cloves and cut them into 4-5 thin strips lengthwise. Leave the remaining cloves whole.
Make thin cuts in your roast (lengthwise) and stuff them with garlic strips (do this after each cut, so that you remember well where you did them).
Rub the meat with the spices and leave to reach room temperature.
Heat the oven to 120°C.
Heat the oil in the casserole you will use in the oven.
Brown briefly the meat on both sides at high heat (it’s mainly for aesthetic reasons… otherwise the meat will be greyish).
Pour the wine and quickly put the casserole aside.
Add more spices (I always add some more thyme, rosemary and chilli), some more salt and water or stock.
Throw the remaining garlic cloves into the casserole and the dried chillies.
Cover and leave in the oven for 7 hours.
Check every hour if there is still enough liquid.
After six hours, flip the meat over. Flip it back just before serving.