Ellen Silverman
Unconventionally, Dante Boccuzzi cures lamb shoulder as for proscuitto and then features it in a salad.
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Joint Efforts

Jim Poris - September 2005

Lamb shoulder, a staple of many rustic cuisines, rarely gets any play on high-toned menus. Here, three chefs discover what they've been missing.

Try as we may, chefs keep making silk purses out of sows' ears, or, as in this latest installment of Mystery Basket, a whole lamb shoulder. Despite our intention to cross them up with ingredients seemingly chosen by tossing darts at a purveyor's catalog, we continue to hoot with delight every time a chef drops the description of the final dish into our e-mail box. Our exuberant response is always the same: "These guys are pros, and this proves it".

Wildly disparate cooking styles add even more interest to the results, as Barbara Lynch (No. 9 Park, B&G Oysters Ltd., and The Butcher Shop, Boston), Greg Sonnier (Gabrielle, New Orleans), and Dante Boccuzzi (Aureole, New York City) bring to the table here.

Their final word is in their dishes.

Their materials--a whole lamb shoulder, Port, salt and pepper, Tabasco green pepper sauce, white wine, garlic, red onions, eggs, olive oil, tomatoes, artichokes, lemons, basmati rice, anchovies, carrots with tops on, savoy cabbage, dried porcini, mascarpone, cumin, almonds, and raisins.

And any two of the following herbs: fresh bay leaves, mint, marjoram, cilantro, epazote, rosemary, thyme, lavender, parsley, tarragon, and Thai basil--tested their culinary acumen and their fun quotient.

Dante Boccuzzi
New York City
"OK, my wife just had our third child two months ago, so sleep is the main priority on my list. Now here, on my 70 minute daily commute from Long Island, I'm creating a recipe using 17 ingredients instead of snoozing. The biggest challenge of this quest is to come up with a recipe that follows the guidelines, makes sense, and represents me. I believe I have avoided the obvious and possibly come up with something I might even put on the menu at Aureole."

Composed salad of lamb prosciutto & grilled anchovies with red onion salsa & toasted cumin almonds. "Cover a boned lamb shoulder with kosher salt; refrigerate 48 hours. Brush the salt off the lamb; rinse with Port; roll up the lamb; tie tightly with twine; store at 50 to 55 degrees until firm, about three weeks. When firm, thinly slice five pieces; reserve. Blanch, shock, peel, seed, and halve four tomatoes; place in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper; add a half-cup olive oil, five crushed garlic cloves, and thyme. Remove tomatoes from the flavored oil; reserve the oil. Lay tomato halves on a sheet pan; dry in a 150 degree oven; remove from the oven; reserve. Simmer two eggs for four and a half minutes; shock in ice water; peel; reserve. Trim four artichokes down to their hearts; rub them with a lemon to prevent discoloring. Peel two carrots; cut into one-quarter-inch-thick slices. Heat olive oil in a large rondo; brown six garlic cloves; add artichokes and one bunch of mint; cover with one cup white wine and one cup water; add the juice of one lemon; season with salt and pepper; bring to a simmer; cook until fork tender; remove artichokes; cool; slice into quarters. Cut one large red onion into small dice; sweat in two tablespoons olive oil until tender; add one cup lemon juice; reduce by half; cool. Place red onion in a mixing bowl; whisk in a half-cup olive oil; season with salt and pepper; add five drops of Tabasco green pepper sauce; reserve. Clean and remove the innards from two whole anchovies; marinate in the reserved olive oil; grill anchovies on all sides. Toast sliced almonds on a sheet pan in a 325 degree oven until golden; season with salt, pepper, and cumin. To serve, lay the artichokes in a triangle at the center of a plate; cut the top off of the egg, exposing the yolk; place in the center of the artichokes; drape five slices of lamb prosciutto around the egg; place carrots and oven dried tomatoes around the triangle; spoon red onion salsa around the plate; lay anchovies across the vegetables; garnish with almonds. Our sommelier, Scott Brenner, recommends serving a Rene Rostaing Condrieu La Bonnette 2002 with this dish because it "has the texture to hold up to meat such as lamb, and is one of the few wines that can match up to the artichoke without getting lost behind the intense flavor of the anchovies. Rostaing Condrieu is a classic, with notes of honeysuckle and kumquat, a long rich finish, and just enough acidity to cleanse the palate."

Barbara Lynch
No. 9 Park, B&G Oysters Ltd., and The Butcher Shop
"When I first got this assignment, I was excited about the challenge and the potential: the challenge of using at least 17 of the 23 ingredients and the potential of what might come out of the assignment. There's just enough of the unconventional to make the crafting of this dish a possible addition to our tasting menu. The dish is wonderful.

"The testing was fraught with drama. We were at the height of the graduation season. I was pulled away regularly to tend to our three restaurants. It was tricky for my excellent chef de cuisine, Ben Elliott, to be freed up enough to complete the dish to our standards and record the final recipe. Finally, while June is usually mild in Boston, a very unusual heat wave hit precisely at the time of testing the recipe. Our kitchen was unbearably hot. Who would want to eat confit of lamb shoulder with artichoke mousseline and raisin/almond gremolata in the heat?

"We plowed ahead. We soaked raisins in Port for the gastrique, which made a nice sauce. We blanched the lamb bones in oil, so it would take on the flavor of the lamb, and then we cooked the shoulder meat in the lamb oil. At first we wanted to make an almond flan, but cream was not allowed in our assignment. Instead, we came up with a raisin/almond gremolata with parsley, anchovies, garlic, and lemon zest. Surprisingly, the dish tasted delicious and was great looking. After 12 tries, we decided the final version should be put on our tasting menu. It could possibly be added to our regular menu soon. Right now I can see a few Harvard and MIT grads enjoying it immensely."

Confit of lamb shoulder with artichoke mousseline & raisin/almond gremolata. "Season lamb shoulder liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with olive oil and add six garlic cloves. Confit in a 300 degree oven until the meat is fork tender and falls off the bone. Allow the lamb to cool in the oil. When cool, remove from the oil and cut into serving portions; reserve the oil. For the artichoke puree, clean six artichokes and braise until tender in a nonreactive saucepan filled with lemon water and some parsley stems. Cut enough of the hearts into brunoise to yield one-half cup. Puree the remaining hearts with one-half cup mascarpone; season with salt and pepper; fold in the artichoke brunoise. Make an anchovy aïoli by whisking two cups of extra-virgin olive oil into a mixture of two egg yolks, one head of peeled and pureed garlic cloves, four anchovies, and a half-cup of lemon juice; season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Peel and julienne two carrots into one-inch lengths. Slice a peeled red onion into matching one-inch lengths. Soak golden raisins in Port to soften; drain; reserve Port; mix raisins, carrots, and onions in a bowl; add parsley leaves; dress with garlic/anchovy aïoli, season with toasted ground cumin seeds. Reduce reserved Port to a syrup. Finally, to make the gremolata, mix two tablespoons each of chopped mint and parsley with a minced garlic clove, the minced zest of a lemon, one-quarter cup toasted and chopped almonds, and a half-cup of extra-virgin olive oil. To finish, use some of the poaching oil to crisp the lamb shoulder in a nonstick skillet. Set the lamb at the top of a rectangular plate; place carrot salad at opposite end; connect lamb to salad with two lines of artichoke puree; garnish plate with gremolata; drizzle Port reduction over the lamb. Cat Silirie, our sommelier, chose a Spanish Priorat, Eben Sadie Dits del Terra 2001, to drink with the lamb. She thinks Priorat wines tend to be overly ripe, so she rarely pairs them with the food at No. 9 Park. But she said this one, made from old vine Carignan and Garnacha, manages to be intensely rich and refined at the same time."

Greg Sonnier
New Orleans
"Lamb shoulder is not something that I've ever used, so I found myself researching recipes. I love the old Time-Life series of cookbooks on ‘how to' just about anything. In the book on lamb, I found a great recipe for a stuffed shoulder. Interesting, but not what I wanted. I also reviewed a braised shoulder recipe that looked good. But again, not what I wanted. At Gabrielle we serve cochon de lait, a baby suckling pig slowly roasted overnight until the meat falls off the bone. My wife, Mary, who lived in Memphis for a while, makes a great slow roasted pork shoulder in the barbecue pit and serves it with a sauce that's a little sweet and a tangy coleslaw. I like that combination of fatty, melt-in-your-mouth meat with the sweet and tangy so I decided to go that route.

"For three weeks I cooked and served lamb shoulder to my Friday Lunch Bunch; we're open for lunch on Fridays only and change our lunch menu each week, giving me the opportunity to try new dishes out on my customers. I served the lamb differently each time, using all of the ingredients on the list and ruling out the ones that didn't work. After trial and tribulation, the recipe I came up with was the one that was ordered most often and got the best response.

"Given the ingredients I had to work with, I think I came up with something along the lines of the Creole cream cheese crusted rack of lamb with roasted pecan popcorn rice and chamomile/mint tea sauce we have on our à la carte menu."

Overnight roasted lamb shoulder with savoy slaw, porcini rice & white raisin/Port sauce. "Salt and pepper a boneless lamb shoulder; with a small knife, cut slits into the meat; stuff sliced garlic into the slits; place the lamb into a six-inch-deep casserole dish; cover with three julienned red onions, two chopped carrots, and three bay leaves; drizzle with about a cup of olive oil. Roast, uncovered, in a 275 degree oven for about 10 to 12 hours. Remove from the oven; strain; reserve the vegetables; reserve roasting juices in the refrigerator, allowing the fat to separate and congeal; remove the fat; reserve the fat and meat jus separately. Allow the lamb to rest for at least 30 minutes; pull apart the meat with two forks.

"Cook the roasted vegetables and a cup of red onions in three tablespoons of the rendered roasting fat; add Port; reduce by 50 percent; strain, reserving vegetables for the rice; reduce liquid by 50 percent; remove from heat; add one cup chopped golden raisins. Mix one cup of the reserved jus, one cup porcini powder, and the reserved vegetables into cooked basmati rice; toss in one cup golden raisins and one cup sliced roasted almonds.

"For the slaw, whisk one cup lemon juice, two eggs, one tablespoon Tabasco green pepper sauce, and one cup extra-virgin olive oil in a bowl to make a rich vinaigrette. Stir in two julienned red onions, two shredded carrots, salt, pepper, and one teaspoon ground cumin. Allow this mixture to marinate 15 minutes and then toss in one head roughly chopped savoy cabbage and two cups chopped parsley; season with salt and pepper. To serve, make a ring of slaw around the plate; place rice inside the ring; top with the pulled lamb; drizzle with Port sauce and its raisins. I'd choose the Seghesio Zinfandel Alexander Valley Home Ranch 2002 to complement the lamb. Of course, it doesn't matter that Cathy Seghesio, Pete Seghesio's wife, is from New Orleans!"