Saturday 5 January 2008

Recipe: Lamb Shoulder stuffed with Salmon

I've been trying - completely without success - to identify the origins of this dish, in order to understand whether the unexpected combination of ingredients sprang from decadence or necessity. Was it as the result of lackadaisical boredom with all other options that somebody came up with the idea of lamb-with-salmon, or did they simply have no other raw materials to work with? (Shades of Alan Davidson's story where he once apologised to some hill-tribesmen for having tried to replicate one of their traditional dishes, when he'd been back at home, but had been forced to use peeled prawns in the absence of the more traditional ingredient, which was the inside of an Ox cheek; the tribesmen's enthusiastic response had been that they only used Ox cheek because they had no choice, and that peeled prawns would be a much better idea, if only they could ever get hold of any!)

The late great Julia gave this dish the name of 'Mentonais', although without explaining why, and for no readily apparent reason; whatever connection it was supposed to have had with Menton is unclear. In any event, the combination works wonderfully, and is all the better for using well-flavoured good-quality lamb. It's often the case that a particular dish will have a particular association, and for me, this one is of a perfectly-cooked version, pink and succulent, served at the Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, only a few months after the place had first opened...which rather dates the experience...

The recipe I use is an adaption of that from the Comtesse de Toulouse-Lautrec. She appeared to have an aversion to anchovies. I don't. This dish is all the better for their presence!

Serves Six.

Ingredients: 1 boned shoulder of Lamb; 125 g of finely chopped (or minced) lamb; 125g tinned Salmon; 4 Anchovy fillets, chopped; 1 medium-sized White Onion; 2 cloves Garlic, finely chopped; 1 small bunch Tarragon, finely chopped; 50g Butter; Salt and Pepper.

1. Fry the chopped Onion in the Butter over low heat, until completely wilted. Add the chopped garlic and cook for a further minute. Allow to cool.

2. Combine the Onion and Garlic mixture with the chopped Lamb, Salmon, Anchovies, and Tarragon. Season generously - if anything, this stuffing should be a bit over-seasoned. (Test a sample by sautéing a teaspoonful of stuffing and taste- if necessary, adjust and test again)

3. To stuff and roll the Lamb:
Unless you are used to tying up meat, it is easier to tie up a joint like a boned shoulder if you use clingfilm to form the shape of the final joint before actually stringing it. To do this:
- lay the meat skin side down on a sheet of clingfilm. (If you are not using the wide rolls of clingfilm used in catering, use overlapping strips of the narrower variety.) Trim any excess fat from the joint and butterfly any section which is much thicker than the rest. The idea is to end up with a reasonably flat piece of meat which can be rolled up into a cylinder.
- Spread the stuffing over the central part of the meat. As you roll it up the stuffing will be squeezed to the edges anyway.
- Roll the meat up as tightly as you can and overlap the cling film to hold it all in place. Use more clingfilm to form the meat into an relatively even cylinder, 4 or 5 inches in diameter. Twist up the ends by holding each and rotating the joint - somewhat like a candy wrapper. If there is any air trapped inside, prick the film with a needle in order to let the air out before you do the final twist.
- Refrigerate until the meat is cold and rigid. (If you are in a hurry, an hour or two in a freezer helps. )
- Tie the meat in the usual way, with the strings about an inch apart - you can leave the cling film in place, and pull it out afterwards, if you are worried the joint will unravel before the string is all in place.

3. Roast the stuffed shoulder at 200C for 50mins, to an hour. If you're uncertain if the joint is sufficiently cooked, test for this temperature using a digital thermometer - when done, the inside should be at a temperature of between 145 F and 170F (ranging from medium rare to well-done; 'medium' would be around 160F).

Allow to rest for 15mins, before carving. Meanwhile, remove the fat from the juices, and de-glaze the latter on the stove with some red wine, to use subsequently as a sauce for the lamb.

NB: Carve and plate the meat carefully! Stuffed joints have a tendency to fall apart, particularly when warm, unless handled with great care.

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