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Saturday, 01 January 2005

New Year's Eve ~ Dental floss to the rescue!

Dental Floss to the rescue!
Who'd of thought that a small little roll of dental floss would save the day? Not me, that's for sure but 'necessity is the mother of invention' as that very oftused saying goes... so in a moment of inspiration or desperation that would make even McGyver proud, we saved our New Year's Eve dinner with a dental hygiene tool...

My roommates John and Pierre ordered 2 lamb shoulders (epaule d'agneau) from our local boucherie (Serge Perraud, 59 rue Monge, 75005 Paris, 01 14 35 16 46) who in my humble opinion is the best butcher in Paris plus he has beautiful blue eyes... The meat from this butcher is expensive but of the highest quality and worth every penny.  Also, Serge is nothing short of delighted when you ask him for his advice. He'll focus his entire attention on you and spend oodles of time, regardless of the line out the door, giving you precise cooking details and entire meal recommendations. But if you don't take it or dismiss it, be prepared for his wrath...

So what does one do with 2 - 2lb lamb shoulders?  We decided to "tweak" Serge's advice a bit and rather than roast the meat, since they were pretty thin, we decided to tie the two shoulders together (enter dental floss) and cook them on the rotisserie!  One of many cool things about living in France is that most of the ovens come with rotisserie attachments in them alleviating the need for the Ronco-Set-It-and-Forget-It-Rotisserie that every American cook should not be without, according to Ron (of Ron-co, get it) and his audience of professional chefs...but I digress...

As a 'culinary professional', which means nothing more than that I am grossly underpaid and know now what simmer means, I am embarassed to say that I had no kitchen twine in my bag of tricks.  We had a rope that could haul a 4x4 out of a snowbank but nothing to secure Serge's beautiful shoulders, his lamb shoulders that is, until my roommate Pierre said, "Let's use the stuff we used on the Thanksgiving bird!"  I'd completley forgotten about our foie-gras & port stuffed chapon on Thanksgiving, whose legs we'd tied up with dental floss. I could go one night without flossing when foie gras is at stake!  Take that Ah-nold, you foie gras eating hypocrite!

So I ran down the hall, grabbed my little spool of dental floss and, along with my other roommate John (Pierre at this point had gone to the patisserie to secure our dessert and a few baguettes), tied the two shoulders together.  We stuffed it with slivers of garlic and sprigs of rosemary, rubbed it with olive oil, salt & pepper, secured the rotisserie skewer, and let'er spin. 

Within a few minutes, those wonderful kitchen smells wafted through the apartment, the kind that you dream about as your driving home from college for Christmas break. Pierre's parents are farmers and on a recent visit brought us a near truckload of potatoes and huge bags of shallots and thick braids of garlic. John cooked those wonderful little potatoes in the pressure cooker and then in a frenzy of decadence mixed in butter melted with heavy cream and....mascarpone!  Oooh la la! 

I made ribbons of carrots and zucchinis with my harp peeler that i adore, did a quick blanch in salted boiling water so the veggies would retain their shape and texture. My first cooking instructor, Chef Pascal admonished us: "Ze water must taste like ze sea!" I cooked them in separate pots of course - you don't want your carrots tasting like zucchini and vice versa or unleash the fury of a French chef - then tossed them in some butter, salt & pepper.  Perfect, with a bit of a crunch.  'Raw' would be how Chef Henri (our Level 2 cooking instructor) described it one day when I commented on the French's inclination for mushy vegetables: "They are not moooshy, that is the way they are supposed to be, not raw like you Californians eat them!" I'll take raw over 'moooshy' any day but never argue with a French chef, especially one holding a knife in one hand and a glass of wine in the other ;-)

Here is my roommates' friend Eric the Actor mugging with our New Year's Ever dinner and a very large portion of potatoes. He also made this beautiful salad.  My apologies as I forgot to take before and after pictures of the lamb shoulder.  It's probably better as the tying job I did left much to be desired...

Eric the Actor mugging for the camera with New Year's Eve dinner Eric the Actor's New Year's Eve salad

And the beautiful desserts from our neighborhood patisserie, Mr Pinaud...

Chocolate Pistachio Cake Chocolate Mousse Cake

Bon Appetit et Bonne Année!

Rotisserie Lamb Shoulder

2 - 2lb lamb shoulders
6 cloves garlic, sliced
4 long sprigs rosemary (use one for garnish)
olive oil
salt & pepper
kitchen twine (or in a pinch, dental floss)

1. heat oven to 400ºF/200ºC/6. once you put the lamb in, turn it down to 350ºF/175ºC/5
2. tie the 2 shoulders together so that one bone is going one direction and the other bone is going in the opposite direction. 
3. with a small paring knife, cut a small incision into the meat and insert a slice of garlic and a small sprig of rosemary. do this all over the meat. also insert garlic and rosemary between the 2 shoulders.
4. rub it all over with olive oil, salt & pepper.
5. cook until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reads 140ºF/60ºC - it took us about 1.5 - 1.75 hours  but it all depends on ovens, thickness of meat, altitude, etc. so start measuring after an hour.  The rule of thumb is 40 minutes a pound (I think) but use your best judgement.

In cooking school, whenever we asked how long to cook something, our chef always said "until it's done" which was absolutely no help and elicited a huge groan from the students but it got me to be aware and start relying on my senses, rather than a cookbook or a timer.  Use all your senses when cooking... what does the meat look like?  Is it turning black? If so, it's probably over cooked.  What does it smell like?  What are the sounds? Is it sizzling? How does it feel?  Hard as a rock or still springy? In other words, become initmately aware of whatever it is you are cooking. That's where the love comes in...

6. when done, remove from the oven, cover it snugly with 2 sheets of foil, and let it rest for about 20-30 minutes. 

DO NOT CUT IT BEFORE LETTING IT REST!  If you do so, all the juices will run out and it will be dry.  In letting any meat rest, you are allowing the redistibution of juices which keeps it moist.

7. OK, now you can slice it...

Bon appetit!


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