Monday, December 15, 2008

Stewed Leg of Lamb with Fava Beans and Fennel

I found boneless leg of Australian lamb at Shop Rite for $4.49/pound. That’s not much more than ground beef, so I bought a 4-pounder for $19. That was a little more than I needed to serve dinner for four, but when I started looking for recipes, I found one in the Silver Spoon that called for dividing a leg of lamb into boneless portions.

I adapted my recipe from their method. Chopping up the leg of lamb into chunks allowed me to cut away some of the fat and muscle membrane that give lamb the strong flavor that some find offensive. After discarding about 1/2 pound of that, I had one bowl of 10 large chunks, each about the size of a pear. This was about 2 1/4 pounds.

I also had a bowl with about 1 1/4 pounds of small or oddly-shaped chunks and a bunch of little bits of meat. These would have been great for Mongolian stir fry or something, but because I have a meat grinding attachment on my mixer, I ended up packing one a 20oz Ziploc container with ground lamb to use later.

Stewed Leg of Lamb with Fava Beans and Fennel Recipe

The rub: 3 tbsp fresh thyme; 2 tbsp olive oil; 2 tbs. salt; 2 garlic cloves; 1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper; 3 anchovies.

The rest: More olive oil; 2 1/4 pounds lamb in pear-sized chunks (8-10 pieces); 1 bulb fennel, julienned; 1 chopped leak if you have it, 1 cup fresh frozen fava beans (thawed and shelled from tough outer pod); 1/2 cup vermouth; 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar; flour for dusting; 3 tbsp. lemon juice (or juice from one lemon)

  • Combine the rub ingredients and smash them into a paste in some way. I use a mortar and pestle. A wooden spoon in a bowl or a food processor will do the trick. Toss lamb chunks in rub. You can marinate them for a while if you choose.
  • Toss chunks with some flour, just to lightly coat. Heat olive oil in a dutch oven over high heat. Brown lamb chunks on all sides. Deglaze pan with vermouth, scraping brown bits off bottom of pan.
  • Add a half cup of water, cover and place in 350 degree oven for 1/2 hour.
  • Check on meat. If the liquid has evaporated, add a little more water. Toss in the fava beans and sliced fennel.
  • Cook for 1/2 hour more. If sauce needs to be a little thicker, ladle it into a small saucepan and reduce over high heat, then pour back.
  • Stir in add lemon juice and some more fresh herbs and serve.
Optional: For a one-pot meal, add some thinly-sliced potatoes and some extra water when you first put in the oven.

Ingredient/Equipment Notes: Fava Beans are a staple of the Mediterranean diet . Their smoky flavor lends itself well to lamb and many other things. In season, Iovine's sells them freah but for mucho dinero. I have been a happier person since I discovered that Broad Beans are exactly the same thing, because First Oriental Supermarket sells four brands in their freezer case for $1.50/bag.

Rolled anchovies in a jar are superior to canned, because jars have lids. I keep a jar in the fidge. It lasts me about a year, as long as I keep it topped off with olive oil. Vermouth is the same idea; unlike wine it keeps opened for months (at least for cooking purposes), and cheap vermouth is also more consitant than cheap wine.

If you don’t have a dutch oven or another pot with a lid that can go from the stove top to the oven, this one from Ikea looks pretty good. I have another one of their cast-iron enameled pans and it's quite nice. Or, for four times the price (and maybe 10 times better), visit Fante's. I love my very un-frugal (it was a gift) Le Creuset more and more these days, but I have never tested it side-by-side with my trusty old cast-aluminum one.

Frugal Factor: At 4.5/pound I used 2.5 pounds of lamb here, tossed 1/2 pound of fat, and saved the rest. So that's $11 for the lamb. Frozen Fava/Broad Beans, $1.50, Fennel bulb, $1, Vermouth, $1, other items from pantry est. $0.75. Total, $12 for 4 portions, or $3/portion for the lamb, which I served with leftover squash, leek and turnip which was $0.55/portion. So that's $3.45/portion total.

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