With the encroachment of cold weather upon us, I have become fascinated by slow cooking meat into tender, savory stews. In this post I shall treat my wonderful, loyal readers to the best meal of my Provençal cooking course with renowned Chef de Cuisine Bruno Ungaro. Ungaro has been featured on Rachel Ray's TV show's feature on Provence, and he hosts a weekly cooking show by radio in addition to running his famous and magnificent restaurant in downtown Aix-en-Provence, L'Amphytrion. Most importantly, as my Manhattan kitchen has many shortcomings when it comes to space, no special equipment is necessary in the preparation of this feast. The only requirement is to consider dinner a few hours earlier than normal, and the results are well worth the effort!
The meal is presented in the order in which you will need to cook it. It took our class a little under 3 hours (with wine-tasting breaks) to put it all together, but the timing is so well planned that as soon as the appetizer is ready, you can simply eat and forget about rushing back to fidget in the kitchen. This meal is about leisure: a Provençal way of life.
Provençal Lamb Stew
(with apologies to Matthew Knouse for being so slow about it)
Instructions as to the meat:
- go to a reputable butcher
- look for a fatty, cheap cut of meat, cut off the bone for this preparation
- 1/2 pound per person should suffice
Unfortunately, I forget what cut of lamb Bruno used, but something from the leg or the shoulder should do well.
For 2-3 pounds of meat:
- Trim off most of the excess, hard layer of fat on the meat (if any)
- Cube into large, bite-size chunks
- Chop 3 carrots, 1 large onion, and one head of garlic, not too finely.
- Add the vegetables first to a large pot, cooking it over medium heat with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste, until the onions have gone transluscent and the carrots have begun to soften
- Add the pieces of lamb to the pot, turning the heat up to high, so that the pieces sear on all sides
- Turn the heat right back down to low, and add an entire bottle of red wine (something from the Côtes du Rhône or Provence obviously compliment this recipe the best). Stir in a heaping tablespoon of black tapenade, and if necessary, add water so that the meat is completely covered with liquid.
- Cover the pot with a lid, turn the heat down to as low as it goes, and cook it "slowly and gently" (Bruno says, "lentement et doucement") for 2-3 hours.
To turn this into a 3-course meal, like we did during Bruno's class, as soon as the stew has been set to simmer, prepare the dessert, which will need to be chilled for at least an hour:
For dessert we had the most fabulous Mousse au Chocolat:
- In a heat-proof mixing bowl over a pot of boiling water, melt 250 grams of a dark chocolate bar.
- Incorporate 100g. of unsalted butter with a spatula
- Taking the mixture off the stove, and mix in 3 egg yolks.
- In a separate bowl, beat 6 egg whites with 50g. of icing sugar until the egg whites stiffen (it's much easier if you do this with a hand mixer)
- Delicately, incorporate the egg white mixture into the melted chocolate
- "Perfume" the mixture - that is, add a few drops - of Grand Marnier liqueur
- Fill small mugs or tea cups with the mixture, and let it chill for at least an hour in the fridge.
- In a small bowl, combine 2 minced cloves of garlic, 1 log of chèvre (goat's cheese), and a small pot of crème fraiche
- Cut a loaf of rustic peasant bread into large slices, and smother each one generously with the chèvre mixture
- Decorate each slice with a whole sprig of rosemary (which looks festively like a Christmas tree on a white, snow-like background)
- Place the slices of bread into a pre-heated oven at 375˚F for about 15 minutes, or until the chevre starts to bubble and turn golden brown.
- Serve the tartine with a salad of thinly sliced endive and a homemade vinegrette of balsamic vinegar (whisk together 3 Tb. balsamic vinegar, 1/4 C. olive oil, salt and pepper to taste)