Sunday, January 18, 2009

Agneau Champvallon (AKA: Look, You Made Fancy Lamb and Potatoes!)

I'm domestic - who knew? A very big thank you to Material Maidel for inviting me to contribute to this public service of a blog. Please don't be intimidated by this recipe - the secret to French cooking is just that it sounds so ridiculously intense that people have to be impressed you made it but really, its normal meat and potatoes, layered in a baking dish. It has a grand total of SIX ingredients in it. The hands-on time is around thirty minutes, ready to eat in two hours but don't be scared: you can easily do the first part ahead of time, which makes your hands-on time on The-Day-You're-Ready-To-Eat-It about 15 minutes and on the table in one hour! Enough yapping:

Agneau Champvallon

1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
coarse sea salt and fresh pepper (but really, who cares - just salt and pepper will be fine)
4 c chicken stock (or vegetable or beef or whatever you have)
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (or even minced. don't sweat it)
1 bouquet garni (don't get nervous. this is 1 bay leaf/3 sprigs thyme/4 sprigs parsley/a finger-sized piece of celery tied up together with twine. if you don't have this, don't die of shame, just throw some 1 tbsp rosemary in the pot and have a drink.)
5 or 6 potatoes (I use Yukon Gold, you can use Russet, Idaho, whatever baking potato you have. again, it's really not a big deal.)

Okay, so this is Step One: Cook the Meat,

In a large dutch oven (or some kind of pot that can be used on a burner), heat as much oil as you need to put a thin layer on the bottom over medium high heat. Season your lamb generously with salt and pepper. Cook your lamb until golden brown, which is around 4 to 5 minutes per side. This may have to be done in batches if your pot can't accomodate all the meat at once.
After all your lamb is browned, take out the pieces and put them in a bowl. Now, deglaze the pan: stir about 1/2 cup of stock into your still-hot pan (this will make steam - relax, everything is fine) and scrape up and of the browned meat bits that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan.
At this point, throw in the onions, garlic, and bouquet garni (or rosemary, whatever) and cook this - stirring occasionally - for five minutes. P.S. This is what a bouquet garni looks like.

See? Not intimidating. Return all the browned lamb to the pot and add the rest of the 3 1/2 cups of stock. Bring this to a boil, reduce the heat, and cover. Simmer until the meat is tender, which is about an hour.

If you do not want to do all the work in one day, this can get cooled and refrigerated for a day. Then, it's time for Step Two: Assemble the Ingredients,

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Pull out a 12-inch gratin dish - its usually a circle or oval, very shallow baking dish (no more than 2 or 3 inches deep). If you don't have this, a regular cake pan/pyrex/whatever will work just fine. Using a mandoline/food slicer or just a really sharp knife wielded extraordinarily carefully, slice your potatoes very thin. Not as thin as a potato chip, but I'd say as thin as a regular issue of US Weekly. Rinse and pat your potato slices dry, then toss them in olive oil to coat. Cover the bottom of your gratin dish with a layer of the potato slices: starting at the outer edge, overlap each potato by half, working in concentric circles towards the center. At the end, there should be four circles. (Check out the picture. Also, if your dish isn't circular, obviously don't kill yourself making a spiral.) Spoon the lamb and the broth over this. Repeat the potato-circle thing with the rest of the potatoes. Sprinkle the top with rosemary, or thyme, or parsley and some more salt and pepper. Bake for about 1 hour: the top with be golden and the edges crisp. You'll also be able to see the juice bubbling.

Pat yourself on the back and let it cool slightly before serving about eight people or four really hungry men, who either way, should be singing your praises.


N. L. R. said...

Sounds good minus the meat but that's easy enough to correct and make it vegetarian.

The recipe says fancy Shepard's pie. ;)

nameless, faceless said...

See, you and I know that, but no one *eating* it knows that that's all it means and therein lies the beauty. Like how nouilles et fromage en casserole means "macaroni and cheese" - the French are tricky little buggers. :)