I don't care what anyone says about not being able to find the time to do these things well. A recent conversation with my only cousin, Catherine (exquisitely removed), confirmed just how an evening meal could be achieved. Before leaving home to take charge of her clinic (I will never forget her forceful smallpox jab), Catherine's late mother would put together a simple stew, stick it in the lowest oven possible (none of your slow cookers in the late Fifties) and it would be ready long before What's My Line.
Back to the future. A sweet and tender leg of new season's lamb is the family favourite for Easter Sunday lunch. So, for those of you whose chicks have either flown, not materialised yet, too tiny or can't be fagged to turn up (shame on them!), here are some tasty ways with the Pascal lamb for hungry couples who remain wedded to a proper lunch. All recipes, naturally, serve two.
Grilled lamb cutlets with Sauce Choron
This classic French sauce is nothing more than bearnaise flavoured with tomato. Perfection with a nicely grilled cutlet. I should add that the ingredients for the sauce will make plenty, mainly because it is impractical to make less. However, should you choose to serve lots of of tender little new potatoes alongside, you might just be able to scrape up every last drop.
for the Sauce Choron
2 small tomatoes
3 tbsp tarragon vinegar
3 tbsp water
1 small shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
2 egg yolks
1 tsp freshly chopped tarragon leaves
salt and pepper
1 scant tsp tomato puree
6 neatly trimmed lamb cutlets
salt and pepper
a little oil
Have a stove-top ribbed grill pre-heated to moderately hot. Note: I don't advocate using a traditional radiant grill here, as this contraption will simply result in your cutlets becoming grey and hot; cooked, yes, but not "grilled". If you do not possess a ribbed grill plate (you should, really you should), it might be better to just sear them in a heavy-duty frying pan. At least this way you will be able to achieve the requisite crust to the meat.
First make the sauce. Blanch the tomatoes for a few seconds in boiling water, lift out, and peel. Cut into quarters, remove the seeds and chop the remaining flesh to a pulp with a sharp knife. Put into a small sieve to drain off any excess juice and put aside to use later. Melt the butter in a small pan and remove the froth from the surface. Keep warm.
In another (stainless-steel or enamelled) pan boil together the vinegar, water, shallot and dried tarragon until the liquid has all but evaporated. Remove from the heat, cool for a few moments, and then add the egg yolks and whisk them into the shallot mixture. Return the pan to a very low heat, add a tiny splash of water and continue to whisk until the egg yolks have thickened to a "mousse-like" consistency. Transfer the pan onto a surface spread with a small damp cloth - which simply allows the pan to remain stable as you whisk.
Now, continuing to whisk, introduce the butter in a thin stream (as if you were making mayonnaise) until all but the milky residue is left in the bottom of the pan and the sauce is shiny and thick. Pass the sauce through a sieve into a warm bowl, stir in the tomato pulp, the fresh tarragon, seasoning and tomato puree. Keep the sauce moderately warm, covered, over a pan of hot (not boiling) water while you grill the cutlets.
Increase the heat under the grill to full. Season the lamb and brush with oil. Once the grill is at maximum heat, collect the cutlets together in one row of six and place on the grill on their fatty edges. Allow the fat to crisp up for a couple of minutes and then tip them all over onto their sides. Grill each cutlet for three minutes, then turn them through 90 degrees to achieve the traditional criss-cross pattern. Repeat this configuration on the other sides. (This suggested timing will result in pink and juicy lamb; cook longer for well-cooked meat.) Remove from the grill and leave to rest for a few minutes on a pre-heated platter before serving. Decorate the cutlets with cool bunches of well-washed watercress and hand the sauce separately.
Lamb chump chops with onions, rosemary and red wine vinegar
This dish is an adaptation of a gorgeous Elizabeth David recipe, from An Omelette and a Glass of Wine. The original uses slices of beef topside, and is referred to as "Grillades des Mariniers du Rhone". It is a sumptuous feast, this mess of beef, onions, parsley, garlic, vinegar and anchovies. I know. I have cooked it many times and to great applause from the happy recipients. However, recently, I tried the dish using lamb. Well, do you know, I think it is even better. For those of you who have cooked my recipe for a roast leg of lamb stuffed with garlic, rosemary and anchovies, you will already know that lamb and anchovies go together like dal and chapati.
4 large onions, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
a spoonful of grease - dripping, olive oil, butter ... what you will
a little flour
4 small lamb chump chops
a little salt, generous pepper
2 heaped tbsp coarsely chopped parsley
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 small cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
4 chopped anchovy fillets
3 tbsp olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 275 F/140C/gas mark 1. Taking a lidded, deep and heavy pot, lubricate the interior of it with grease. Then arrange half of the prepared onions over the base, as a nest, and season lightly. Season, too, the chops, and generously dredge in some flour. Lay them neatly on top and strew over the remaining onions, once more, lightly seasoned. Cover the surface with a sheet of greased, greaseproof paper, neatly cut so that it forms a cartouche. (This useful inner lining is a veritable boon for this sort of cookery, allowing the contents of the pot to benefit from additional insulation while also retaining flavour and keeping in essential moisture.) Attach the lid and place in the oven for about one-and-a-half hours.
Remove from the oven and stir in the parsley, vinegar, garlic, anchovies and oil, which you have previously stirred together to form a vinaigrette of sorts. Replace the cartouche and lid and cook for a further half-hour. Serve with mashed potatoes, enriched only with a splash or two of hot milk and a little olive oil or butter. Even though the dish may be French-inspired, fluffy English is wanted here, rather than an over-rich, sloppy pommes puree.
Crumbed breast of lamb with a puree of peas and mint
When I worked in a small restaurant in Knutstord, Cheshire, called The Hat and Feather, in the early 1970's, the kitchen was asked to cook a dish called Breaded Lamb Fingers St Germain (the St Germain bit refers to the peas). Now, I don't know about you, but however delicious this particular recipe might have been (it was surprisingly good, as it happens), I always thought that anyone who chose it from the menu almost felt sorry for it.
The original dish came directly from the pages of The Robert Carrier Cookbook (first published in 1966, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd), wherein, as if by magic, classic dishes from all over the world were yours to cook and savour. This puree of peas can be made from either fresh, frozen (use the largest and cheapest variety), tinned or even marrow fat; it has to be said, however, that the tinned ones are alarmingly green. Carrier also suggested sauce bearnaise to go with the dish, which is fine, but as you have had one of those already here today, this simple caper sauce is a genuinely nice alternative.
2 meaty breasts of lamb, excess fat removed
light chicken stock or water
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
salt and a few peppercorns
flour, beaten egg and fresh breadcrumbs
for the sauce
a spoonful of butter
1 finely chopped shallot
1 tsp flour
1 tbsp capers, squeezed dry
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3-4 tbsp cream
puree of peas and mint
Just cover the lamb with stock or water together with the vegetables, bouquet garni and seasonings, and simmer very gently for about one-and-a-half hours.
Carefully lift out the meat, leave to cool for a few minutes and pull out the bones, leaving the meat in one piece. Press between two plates until quite cold and solid. Cut into thick "fingers" and dip into the flour, then the egg and, finally, coat in breadcrumbs. Put to one side.
Make the sauce by frying the shallot in the butter until soft, adding the flour to make a roux and then adding enough of the poaching stock to make a smooth sauce. Stir in the capers, a little of their vinegar and, finally, the mustard and cream. Keep hot.
For the puree, heat enough peas for two, with some chopped mint and a little butter. Work through a vegetable mill (preferably), or coarsely puree in a food processor. Note: a few pieces of sieved boiled potato may be introduced to the peas if you wish for a more robust texture.
Either deep-fry the lamb or cook in a deep frying pan in clarified butter or olive oil, until crisp and golden. Garnish with the puree and some watercress sprigs. Hand the sauce separately.