Ice-Filtered Lamb Jelly, Braised Lamb Tongue and Cucumber Salad, Best End of Lamb, Onion and Thyme Fluid Gel, Hotpot with Sweetbread and Oyster
Specialty Equipment: pressure cooker, water bath, vacuum machine, digital thermometer
Specialty Ingredients: gellan F, nitrite salt, gelatine 170 Bloom, patience
Dish as in The Fat Duck*:
* I think the little meat/potatoe part of the first photo is a miniature hotpot, so the separate hotpot dish is either dropped or added to the dish.
‘Hello, this is a report of my quest to tackle the Big Fat Duck Cookbook. The horror!!!’ I wrote this back when I just started the blog without any Fat Duck dishes under my belt. Looking back I was clueless when I put the words online, and must say the horror manifested itself in areas you might overlook. The hunt for ingredients, the planning of dishes to be able to regularly update, to the photographing and sorting of photos and writing it all down step for step. Cooking dishes on the other hand, with all the other stuff taken care of, was, for the most part, not a horrific endeavor, with a few exceptions. This lamb dish is one of those exceptions, the cooking requiring a level of patience I’ve not encountered before. It may be thé Crazy Ass Recipe of the book. Three stocks, lots of brining, multiple days of cooking of several items, ice filtration, a fluid gel, surgical precision, difficult to understand instructions and more.
I had a hunch about the craziness of this dish and it is probably the reason I put off making it until I had no choice. The funny thing it is one of the most classical recipes of the book. A rack of lamb, a hotpot and a classic jellied stock (aspic) are, as noted in the introduction, classics. Cooking the components require not so classical methods though. For me another example to counter ‘foam arguments’ (know what I mean?) against modern cuisine or molecular gastronomy if you insist to call it that. Here techniques are used to update or improve preparation methods like braising, roasting, making a puree and making a stock. I really can’t do anything else than say that, for instance, tongue cooked for 2 days is like nothing else. Absolutely incredible. Or that an onion fluid gel, dressing up as a puree, is so tasty, smooth and explosive I wonder if a classic onion puree could ever come close.
Oh, I have these moments I start to ramble on and forget the post still has 40 photos to go with accompanying text. Back to the main subject of the recipe: lamb. You have to use a variety of lamb cuts for this dish: neck, tongue, shoulder, rack, sweetbread and bones. A lamb extravaganza! I started with all the stock components of the dish, which include a sauce, a consommé and a braising liquid for the potatoes.
I was planning on a section on making stocks in a pressure cooker and how I disliked the ones from my pressure cooker. Let’s keep it at the fact I used open pans for this recipe.
For the sauce you have fry lots of cubed lamb shoulder and lots of carrots, onions and star anise. After cooking, straining and reducing, it is finished with some butter and lamb fat (which you have to remove from the stock).
The consommé is made in a similar fashion to the sauce, only with lamb bones and minced lamb shoulder. To mince the shoulder I chopped it up in a food processor. When it is done you have to put it through an ice filtration process.
Even the potatoes, sitting on top of the hotpot, are in need of a lamb stock. It is made similar to the sauce.
Cooking the sauce, consommé and braising liquid.
The cooled braising liquid and sauce split when chilled, but came together when heated again.
To boost the flavor of the potatoes they are cooked in a lamb stock.
Ice filtration of the consommé, used for the jelly.
Next up were all the brining and cooking periods of the neck, tongues and sweetbreads. After brining they are cooked at different temperatures and times. The tongues were the clear winner with a brining and cooking time of 2 days each.
An interesting thing about the tongues was how they were butchered in front of me. I went to an Islamic butcher, Amsterdam is littered with these offal rich shops, and instead of giving me a couple of tongues from a fridge section they picked up four lamb heads and started removing the tongues in front of me. This is how visiting a butcher a couple of decades ago must have felt.
See this post for a small note on the tongues of this recipe.
Finishing the sweetbreads by frying them. I used frozen ones and they were really difficult to keep whole, as suggested in the book.
All the stuff for the hotpot. In my eyes no need to cut all the cuts neatly (it’s a hotpot!).
To thé lamb cut, the best end of lamb. Reading the recipe I hard a really hard time figuring out which part Heston was after and how exactly it needed to be butchered. My initial confusion came from my understanding that the lamb saddle is the loin part of the back of a lamb. In the instructions of the book the saddle includes the rack and the loin, not just the part without ribs. Next I needed to figure out which part of the rack the recipe requires. As I’ve now learned (see third picture below), the eye of meat of the lamb rack is larger at the loin part of the lamb in contrast to the eye of meat at the neck part. So what you need, if I’m correct, is a lamb rack, but only the part near the loin. Butchers don’t really like handing out racks cut in half, so I bought two whole racks.
The final complication in the descriptions is the part of the butchering. From what I’ve gathered you have to ask your butcher to only cut through the spine (connecting the two racks) and leave the rest of the bones attached to the meat. When you’ve got the racks with bones and all you have to ‘score the bones in the middle of the racks with a bone saw, being careful mot to cut all the way through, and gently snap them.’ The middle of the racks?
After reading the instructions, studying the racks and then cooking them I think I know what is meant. The eye of meat is surrounded, the part not covered by fat, by bones. If you saw through the ribs (I think I cut too low) and snap them you can easily detach the meat from the bones when the rack is cooked. Just slide your knife across the bottom bones, go a bit upwards to where you scored the racks and go through the opening. Does this make sense at all?
To avoid last minute frenzy I trimmed the racks a bit, removing fat and French trimming the bones, but reattached what I cut off when I vacuum packed the meat to bring it back in its original state.
Here’s a photo I found of a chef holding a lamb rack in the Fat Duck kitchen. Funny thing is that the guy in the back is Francois Geurds of Restaurant Ivy.
After marinating the racks with rosemary and thyme for 2 days I cooked them for 3 hours at 56˚C at which point you can’t open the bag to avoid oxidized flavors.
To finish the garnish for the jellied consommé you have to cut batons of cucumber and make confit tomatoes.
I needed to think for a minute how to cut the cucumber to resemble the ones from The Fat Duck.
Onions cooked for the hotpot and as a garnish to the main plate. Instead of braising the onions in an oven for the main plate I cooked them along the ones for the hotpot in the microwave (but with butter, water and thyme).
Finalization time. Finally! You have to gently reheat the racks, free them from bones and fry the fat side, reheat the stuff for the hotpot, top the hotpot with an oyster and potatoes, brush them with sauce and grill them (repeating it a number of times), warm the fluid gel (forgot to take photos) and sauce, char the baby onions, chill the consommé for it to set and pick chervil and lemon thyme leaves.
Lamb. Lamb. Lamb. Lamb. Lamb. That would sum up the dish. Very, very soft racks with a delicious sauce and, as I said before, an incredible onion puree (I can only imagine how this dish must taste with the lamb used in the Fat Duck. The book specifies all kinds of quality controls for the lamb). Complemented by slightly more challenging lamb cuts in the hotpot, it is classical flavor to perfection. The hotpot could, for me, do with a bit more herbs and freshness, to balance the strong lamb flavor in all the components, but it is really nitpicking.
The real winner for me was the jelly. In the Jelly of Quail I sort of liked it, but here, I, and others who ate it, absolutely loved it. With the cucumbers and tomatoes it is a refreshing note to a powerful plate and pot of lamb.
I’m glad, I must say, cause this would have been a real killer: ‘What have you been doing lately?’ ‘Well cooking a recipe for 5 days.’ How was it?’ ‘It sucked!’