I’ll never tire of that sight – that hot mess of slowly-braised meat, bright veg, and pillowy dumplings, mingling together in a heavy-bottomed pan. Like many gifts in one. It might be the extravagant use of meat (which we all know we should be eating less of), but this, to me, is luxury food. In perhaps its truest, most rewarding form.
It might seem late to be posting about braised anything one day shy of May, but the weatherman seems to think there are a few more crisp, cool days ahead of us – at least in these parts (I could swear I saw a snowflake yesterday) – and so I think there’s still some wiggle room for a few more dishes like these, the ones that require the slow, steady heat of the oven to attain their full potential.
These are the kind of dishes that make me feel gratified about rescuing that old, blaze-coloured Creuset from the family basement a few years ago, when no one wanted it, either for lack of space, or to prioritize lighter, less cumbersome cookware. Over the years, and before its hibernation in the basement, it had become a well-used and well-loved beast, bearing a hefty scar – a deep, cinereal gash right across the lid – from an earlier incident involving a sharp plunge to the tile floor, back in the house I grew up in. Some might have thrown the thing away, but Dad, the industrious Anglo-Saxon that he is, worked his magic with the sodering iron and sealed it back together, to create something of a Franken-Creuset.
Bequeathed with what is now considered a family heirloom, I try to find ways to use it whenever I can, and as often as I can. And each time, I marvel at how it turns unglamorous cuts of meat into ravishingly beautiful braised dishes that you want to mop up with bread until there’s nothing left on the plate. I’ve learnt to appreciate my Creuset, its scar a tangible reminder to handle it with care. It rewards me in kind, every time.
Braised Lamb with Dumplings and Date-Mint Chutney
Adapted from The Complete Irish Pub Cookbook and Joe Beef for Food 52
For the Lamb
- 2 lb (about 1 kg) lamb shoulder, bone-in*
- Salt and pepper, to season
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, quartered
- 1 small leek, white + light green part cut into rings
- 1 carrot, peeled and chopped into chunks
- 3-4 small turnips, washed and quartered
- 10 cloves garlic, smashed and skins removed
- 10 sprigs thyme
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 1/2 cup beef stock (plus one cup to add at the end with the dumplings)
- 1 cup frozen or very fresh shelled peas (to add at the end of cooking)
*depending on the size of your baking vessel, you can ask your butcher to cut the lamb shoulder in half.
For the Date-Mint Chutney
- 1 cup pitted dates
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1/8 cup jarred horseradish
- 2 Tbsp fresh mint
- 1/2 Tsbp Worcestershire sauce
For the Herb Dumplings
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 1/2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
- 1 1/2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 egg
- 2 Tbsp milk
1) Preheat the oven to 375° F. MAKE THE LAMB: Season the lamb on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof sauté pan over high heat. Add the lamb and sear for 3 or 4 minutes on each side, or until you get a nice golden crust. Transfer to a plate.
2) Reduce the heat to medium, throw in the onion, leek, turnip, carrot, and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add the thyme, nestle the lamb on top of the vegetables, and pour in the wine and the beef stock. Cover the pan, place in the oven, and braise for 4 hours, basting the lamb every 30 minutes or so with the pan juices. If the pan begins to dry out, add some water.
3) While the lamb is cooking, MAKE THE CHUTNEY: In a small pot, combine the dates and water, bring to a boil over high heat, and boil for about 10 minutes, or until soft. Reduce the heat to medium, add the vinegar, and cayenne, and stir well. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until the sugar is dissolved and the condiment has the consistency of jam. Remove from the heat, add the horseradish, mint, and Worcestershire sauce, and whisk until combined. Let cool before serving. (Leftover condiment can be stored in a tightly capped jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.)
4) MAKE THE DUMPLINGS (see instructions below)
5) About 20 minutes before the meat is ready, heat the remaining cup of stock in a saucepan; remove the lamb from the oven and arrange the dumplings around the meat, pouring over the hot stock; add the peas. Cover and return to the oven to cook about 15 minutes longer.
4) When the lamb is ready, transfer it to a warmed platter with the vegetables and dumplings. Serve the condimint on the side.
To make the dumplings
1) Heat a large saucepan of salted water. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Mix in the black pepper and fresh herbs. Rub in the butter untill the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. In a seperate bowl, beat together the egg and milk, then stir into the flour to make a soft, sticky dough.
2) With floured hands, divide the dough into 10-12 pieces and roll into balls. Once the water in the saucepan has reached a gentle boil, drop the dumplings, one by one, into the water; partially cover and cook for 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, gently remove the dumplings and set them in a colander to drain. Transfer to a plate and set aside.