Anatomy of a Dish: Mint Creek Farm Lamb Duet

This dish was a very successful special this past weekend, so has made the cut for the Spring menu. Since I want to give everyone more information about what all goes into our food, this is going to be the first installment in a series of posts I’m calling Anatomy of a Dish, where I’ll share recipes, techniques, thoughts, and inspirations, hopefully giving readers a greater understanding of our cuisine and the message that lies within.

Why would I share this much information with the public? Hopefully it will help most folks understand our Big Jones’ cuisine better, maybe take a little ownership in what we do. Some folks might try making the recipes (and you should if you like to cook.) There’s a lot of work involved, but if you try a dish like this you can see in the end result why it’s worth the effort.

I also think by reading these recipes (some, like this one, are formulas more so than recipes – an important distinction) you will come to realize why our cooking is different from most restaurants. It’s not just that it’s Southern, or just the cooking, but the sourcing, quality controls, and complicated vendor relationships that are involved. I also know that whether other chefs or restauranteurs read these posts, almost all of them will not be willing to go to the lengths that we do to produce great, and truly unique food. Any chefs or restauranteurs that would go to such lengths as we do are probably too busy to read my blog lol. Most restaurants, even in the city, are basically assembling food scientist-formulated processed food products and putting their name on them. We’re different.

So, we have Mint Creek Farm Lamb Duet, braised carrots, pan-roasted candied salsify & artichoke, rose hip puree. Actually, this past weekend was a little early for long-stemmed artichokes, so the photo does not include them, instead the photo includes mashed turnips from Genesis Growers. The “duet” is daube and spicy sausage. Daube is a popular rustic stew in South Louisiana, a clue to the longstanding influence of French country cooking in the region. Daube is the French comfort food you’ve never heard of (unlike cassoulet, which is everywhere, and for good reason) probably because we have an analogous American comfort food dish: Pot Roast. Still, Daube is different. Usually based on veal, or maybe lamb or goat, the dish requires a base of wine and brandy, and never ever has a flour, or roux, thickener for the sauce, relying instead on extracted gelatin from bones and rendered fat to give viscosity to the sauce, and keeping the essence of the dish pure, free from the taste of roux. Roux, while essential to the luxurious texture and heavenly flavors of sauces such as gumbo roux, mornay, and espagnole, is definitely out of place in a Daube. More on the spicy lamb sausage in a few.

The essential ingredients to complete the dish:

  • one lamb, with bones
  • onions
  • celery
  • garlic
  • tomato paste
  • kosher salt
  • black tellicherry peppercorns
  • red wine
  • brandy
  • pig trotters, split lengthwise
  • Worcestershire (see explanation)
  • Red wine jus (see explanation)
  • lardons (see explanation)
  • Carrots, peeled, cut into 1″ chunks
  • Salsify
  • Lemon
  • Star anise
  • coriander seed
  • white wine, preferably Southern French
  • Bay Leaves
  • brown sugar
  • turbinado sugar
  • chile flakes
  • Long-stem artichokes
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Butter
  • paprika
  • granulated garlic
  • granulated onion
  • ground cloves
  • ground cumin
  • curing salt
  • dried thyme leaves
  • tellicherry peppercorns
  • organic rose hips, dried
  • cane syrup
  • lemon juice
  • pork fatback
  • 24 feet lamb casings

We have to get our pantry in order, and then we can commence preparations of our mise en place, which is our set-up for service, and then prepare a perfect, hot dish to order on the line during service.

There are certain pantry considerations that must be addressed before we even approach such a dish, most eminent of which is Worcestershire sauce. This will come up in recipe after recipe as I write this blog, but I will only now explain a little bit about what happens when we make Worcestershire. It’s simple, really, but a lot of work. We go to the trouble because a Southern chef’s cooking is only as good as the Worcestershire in the pantry. The recipe is too long to print here, but feel free to contact me if you’d like it. Use the contact page on this web site to do so.

To make Worcestershire, essentially what we are trying to do is create a super-savory condiment that can be used to add what the japanese call “umami” to any dish where the extra kick is required. The primary (but not only) flavor molecule that elicits savory responses from the tongue is glutamic acid aka glutamate. This is not the same chemical as MSG, but an ingredient in that preparation, which might be a clue as to its taste-boosting powers. Bushels of onions, garlic, and mushrooms provide glutamic acid (savory,) horseradish, cloves, lemon, allspice berries, etc. provide pungency, lemon and tamarind add some tang, and anchovies, sorghum, corn syrup, and lignins from the onions and tamarind give viscosity to the final preparation. There’s also salt and pepper of course, and a few others. The whole process takes about 7 hours, best done 4 hours one day, three the next. That’s the infusion and settling, straining, and reduction. We make Worcestershire at least once a week, and a ten-gallon infusion yields less than two gallons of sauce. I think it’s worth it.

There’s also the red wine jus. This gets intoduced to the lamb jus near the end of that process (that part comes later.) We use veal bones, and I am super stoked to have arranged for Mint Creek to also be providing us humane, pastured veal bones for this preparation. We do fifty pounds of bones at a time, roast them for two hours, then infuse them in enough water to bring everything up to twenty gallons. This simmers for four hours. We then strain, and begin reducing the liquid. The bones are returned to a pot with a few more gallons of water and some tomato paste (which adds glutamic and other acids to further extract the bones) and simmered for eight hours while the first infusion reduces. They are then married and reduced to three gallons. We call this demiglace. This is combined with onions, garlic, bay, and other seasonings, three bottles of red wine, and port, and reduced to four quarts. Season with kosher salt, and you have red wine jus. $90 for four quarts, plus labor, and into the pantry it goes.

The last item to have in the pantry is the lardons. We buy whole hogs from Gunthorp Farm. The belly goes into several different preparations, but the bacon that is used for lardons goes as follows, it’s very simple. For one side of pork belly:

  • 2 cups kosher salt
  • 2 pounds dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup curing salt
  • 2 Tablespoons ground cloves
  • 12 bay leaves

Combine the salts, sugar, and cloves. Skin, then square the pork belly into 8-12″ squares, Rub liberally with the salt mixture and place on racks to dry under refrigeration. Any excess rub should be dredged evenly over the top. Disperse bay leaves evenly. Cure for 5-7 days. Rinse thoroughly under cold running water to remove all cure. Pat dry with towels. Cold smoke (below 125 degrees f) over pecan wood for four hours. You now have pecan-smoked slab bacon. To make lardons, cut into 3/8″ slices, then cut crosswise by 3/8″ to make small batons of bacon. plunge into plain boiling water for thirty seconds and remove. At this point, you can use immediately, or chill right away.

The pantry should now be in order, so the preparation can begin. Mint Creek delivers a lamb Wednesday, whole. The first thing that happens is the primal cuts are separated, the bones pulled out, and lamb jus begins. The shoulder cuts are separated for sausage, the leg cuts for the Daube. Loin, or saddle, cuts are set aside for other uses as are the tongue and brain. The bones go into the lamb jus. Now begins the mise en place.

Lamb Jus

  • Bones from one lamb, hard-cut, including neck and tail
  • 4 gallons water
  • 12 ounces tomato paste
  • 1 quart red wine jus
  • 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons kosher salt

In a braising pan, roast lamb bones at 350 until well browned, about two hours. Deglaze with water and place over high heat on stove, skimming surface regularly as you bring to a boil. Once boiling, return to a simmer and cook for four hours. Strain, and return liquid to stove top over medium heat to reduce. Place bones in separate stockpot with tomato paste and cover by two inches with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for four hours while other stock reduces. Strain and marry the two stocks. Reduce at a low boil to two gallons (about two hours.) Add Worcestershire and red wine jus. Reduce to four quarts. Season with kosher salt and correct seasoning.

Salsify

  • ten pounds salsify, peeled and dropped immediately into a solution of 1 gallon cold water and 2 ounces fresh lemon juice, to prevent browning
  • two quarts water
  • two cups colombelle, or other fruity, acidic white wine
  • 2 cups turbinado sugar
  • 6 stars star anise
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon chile flakes
  • 6 bay leaves

Peel salsify and set in a bath of cold water with a little lemon juice to prevent browning. Put remaining ingredients in a shallow saute pan and bring to a simmer. Poach salsify in liquid until tender, about twenty minutes per batch. Cool on dry racks and refrigerate.

Artichokes

  • 36 long-stem artichokes, trimmed, with stems peeled, and quartered
  • salt and pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil

Cut thistle tips from artichokes. Peel stems. Season with salt and pepper and steam until tender. Cut lengthwise into quarters and reserve.

Rose Hip Puree

  • 1 lb organic rose hips (available from natural foods distributors, we use UNFI)
  • cold water to cover
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup cane syrup
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

place rose hips in a small saucepan, and cover with cold water. Slowly bring to a simmer, covering with water as rose hips absorb more. Continue process for two hours. In batches, puree rose hips in Vitaprep with lemon juice and cane syrup, press through a fine sieve, season with kosher salt, and set aside.

Spicy Sausage

  • 12# lamb shoulder, about the weight of the shoulders of one lamb
  • 2# pork fatback or fatty trim
  • 3 cups ice water
  • 1/4 cup plus two tablespoons salt
  • 1/4 cup ground tellicherry peppercorns
  • 2 Tablespoons pink curing salt
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin powder
  • 1 Tablespoon ground allspice
  • 1 Tablespoon crushed red pepper
  • 24 feet cured lamb middle casings

Grind lamb and pork with the coarse 1/4″ grinding plate. Toss with iced water and seasonings. Regrind one half and recombine with the original. Stuff into lamb casings in 4″ lengths, and refrigerate for up to 7 days.

Daube

  • Lamb leg meat, cut into 1″ chunks
  • 2 lbs lardons (see explanation)
  • 2 hog trotters, split lengthwise
  • 1 bottle good red wine
  • 4 ounces brandy
  • 1 Tablespoon crushed tellicherry peppercorns
  • 4 pounds onions, divided in half and diced
  • 4 ounces garlic, chopped
  • 4 ribs celery, diced
  • 2 green bell peppers, dice
  • 10 lbs carrots, peeled and cut into 1″ segments
  • Kosher salt, about 1/2 cup, used sparingly and added as the dish progresses

In a large braising pan, slowly bring lardons to a simmer, and render until lightly browned. Remove crisped lardons and set aside. In fat remaining in pan, raise heat and brown lamb pieces on all sides and set aside. Saute half (2#) of the onions, celery, peppers, and the garlic until lightly browned and set aside.

Reconstruct for the oven. In the braising pan: First the trotters, then the remaining 2# uncooked vegetables, and the browned lamb. Arrange the peeled and chopped carrots and rendered lardons over the lamb, season with salt and pepper. Burn the alcohol off the brandy and wine and pour over the dish. Cover the braising pan and cook at 350 degrees for four hours. Remove from heat and check that lamb is fork-tender. Cool to room temperature. Carefully separate lamb chunks from carrots, lardons, and the pan liquids. Marry the pan liquids with the lamb jus and check seasoning.

Our mise en place is ready. What happens when you order the dish?

Your order for the lamb duet prints in the kitchen. Immediately, an iron skillet gets set over a gas burner with pork fat in it. In goes the lamb sausage link. It gets brought to temperature and crisped wile the other elements come together.

The daube elements (lamb chunks, carrots, lardons) are put into another iron skillet with some lamb jus and a little water to help them take up heat without drying out. Another iron skillet hits the fire for the salsify and artichokes. In a little olive oil and butter, they are roasted right in the pan constantly tossed to ensure even heating.

As the daube elements come up to temp with the lamb jus, add a pat of butter to the pan and increase the heat, and baste on the stovetop. The butter will foam and reduce with the lamb jus and glaze the chunks of daube with a sticky, shiny glaze. When the lamb is well coated and glossy, you will know it is time.

Tossed constantly, the artichokes and salsify are ready, crisp on the exterior and creamy on the interior. Smear a little rose hip puree on the plate, and build from there. Carrots, salsify, then the daube pieces, finally the sausage, lardons, and jus, and you have a great meal!