One of the great things about starting this blog has been the opportunity to meet like minded people. Rather than being shy retiring types who hide behind the Internet many other food bloggers have turned out to be really interesting and great company across a dining table. A couple of months ago we'd had a night out at Salt Yard, since then I'd been trying to find a date on which Krista, Jess and Monkey Gland could come round to my place for a bite to eat. And last weekend it finally came to pass. Unfortunately Mr Gland was, somewhat glamorously, 'stuck in Los Angeles'. By this stage we did have a new addition to our party, Trig, a trainee chef . . . a regular commenter on this site that Ben and I had been looking forward to meeting.
As there were two Americans in the party I was quite keen to put on a traditional British Sunday lunch - roast with all the trimmings. As it was, ambition got the better of me and the menu veered towards the Gallic. To start with I planned potato and foie gras soup. This was a dish I'd enjoyed at the Anchor and Hope. As the main course, seven hour slow cooked leg of lamb with flageolet beans in a garlic emulsion. Finally blood orange jelly with cream. As I was shopping at Borough Market I also bought some scallops on a whim - thinking I'd put them with some leek and bacon dressed with a hazelnut and lemon dressing. Alas, 'twas not to be.
A meal like this is a good opportunity to try some nice wines- you've got enough people to get through a bottle a course and you've got food to match against. For the scallops, I bought a Pieropan Soave Classico 'La Rocca' 2004. The foie gras demanded something fruity and sweeter, but not so much that you couldn't step down from it. We had a Kientzler Muscat 2002 from Alsace (a place quite keen on foie . . .). The lamb was a great opportunity to try out some Bordeaux: A Chateau Ferriere from Margaux and a Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande from Pauillac - both wines were from 2001 (I was assured by jancisrobinson.com that these were ready for drinking). Ben brought along a third Bordeaux, a 1994 Chateau de Fieuzal.
So . . . that was the plan. I'd hoped that most things could be prepared in advance - the jellies made the night before, the lamb just cooking away without too much attention etc. I knew that I'd have to get up very early to get the lamb in so it could be served at a reasonable time. Shopping on Saturday took all day - more than one trip to Borough Market as I forgot stuff and had to go back, also a journey west to Harvey Nicholls to buy the foie gras.
The jelly was quite simple to make, but quite lengthy - as well as juicing all the oranges (I don't have an electric juicer . . .) you have to segment some. The oranges simply didn't yield enough juice and I had to run out to the corner shop on the Saturday evening to find some OJ to bulk it up. The jelly is set in two stages, so you can distribute the fruit segments - I didn't use enough gelatin and by the time I got bed, the damn stuff still hadn't set - the second layer had to wait until the morning.
I got up early in the morning and faffed about in a zombie-like stupor. The first thing was to sear the lamb in the roasting tray (to provide some Maillard caramelisation, i.e. flavour), next to lightly cook some thinly sliced onions and carrots in the tray, before re-adding the lamb, adding some water to the tray and then trying to improvise a tight-lid. Some weighted-down baking trays served this purpose and off we set at 70 degrees centigrade . . . for seven hours. This was not actually as simple as it might appear. A domestic oven is simply not that accurate (as my digital thermometer showed me) and I had to jiggle to controls around quite a lot. You also have to baste the meat every half an hour and this mucks around with the oven temperature.
While this was going on I made the potato soup - I used a Lyndsey Barham recipe with an early shallot and potato frying stage, followed by simmering with chicken stock. Once the potatoes are soft it's all liquidised and then finished with double cream. The soup was pretty nice but not quite the effect I'd wanted as a canvas for the foie gras - it was puree like - smooth, what I'd wanted was something more granular and actually more watery - I shouldn't have used the blender and then a load of cream then, right?
The scallop dish all had to be cooked at the last minute, so that was all done when everyone had arrived. As I now had an almost=professional chef in my flat I asked him to confirm my suspicions about the scallops - yep, thems was dead. A simple combination of chopped leeks fried in butter and then some thinly sliced Staffordshire cured bacon (I'd chosen that molasses based cure because of its sweetness) and then dressed with a macadamia nut (nowhere in London seemed to have hazelnut oil) and sherry vinegar dressing was actually quite tasty, despite missing the star of the show.
There was over an hour hiatus between finishing the soup and the lamb arriving - mainly because I put the potatoes in too late (these are sliced thinly and cooked with onions in the base of the roasting dish). In the end I tried crisping the potatoes under the grill while the lamb rested - even then they were still undercooked. The lamb itself though was soft and melting and because of the sympathetic cooking you retain the meat's moisture and flavour. You can see this when you cut the lamb - a huge amount of juice is released. The Herdwick lamb tasted lovely. The accompanying beans were not such a success with the garlic emulsion not really tasting garlicky enough. Overall the whole dish was just a bit too 'soft' for me. The flavours and the cooking were gentle - one can almost imagine this as a meal for the convalescent. The wines worked very well - the Ferriere fresh and open but with tannic structure, the Comtesse de Lalande altogether silkier and with a longer taste.
Here's Trig masterfully working his way through some parsley for the lamb, with my hopelessly blunt knife:
You can read his account of the meal here.
After the lamb was served I relaxed somewhat. Serving the jelly was just a matter of topping up the serving glasses with single cream. A nice enough recipe, but I think next time I'll do it without the chunks of fruit. And as a final very-nice-thing-indeed - some salted caramel thin chocs from L'Artisan du Chocolat.
Here's a picture Trig took, with (from left to right), myself, Ben, Krista and Jessica (you can kind of tell that I'd been up since seven with only three and a half hours of sleep . . .):
I'm sure we all talked about fantastic foodie things and I do remember some bits of it - Trig's travel plans, how good L'Estranger is . . . but really for most of the cooking time I was in a stressed out trance, and then when I came out of it I was already quite inebriated. There was only one thing left to do . . . head for the pub.