Ragoût d'Agneau avec le Polenta et les Ananas Caramélisés is a fancy was of saying Lamb Stew with Polenta and Caramelized Pineapples. The pineapples are for dessert, in case you were confused and thinking "yuk! lamb stew with pineapples!? the girl has lost it!"
My friend Kendall was traveling in the states so I offered to cook dinner for her husband Bob and son Greg. Their friends (and mine) Jeff, Christian and Nadine joined in a made it an official party. Since it’s been so cold all week I decided to make Lamb Stew. Of course today turned out to be as frigid as a glorious spring day but I had already purchased the meat yesterday so lamb stew it was going to be dammit!
I procured the lamb at Boucherie Perraud (59 rue Monge, 75005 Paris, 01 45 35 16 46) from Serge Perraud himself, my favorite butcher in Paris. It has nothing to do with his beautiful blue eyes…really… sorry, back to the lamb… The lamb comes from the Limousin region and I have to say I have never had lamb with such an incredible flavor. You could do nothing to it, actually you should do nothing to it, and it tastes wonderful. It isn’t too lamb-y and it was amazingly tender. Serge cuts everything right there. Nothing, well maybe few things, are precut or prepackaged but not much. I waited AN HOUR and there were only 8 people in front of me and the line was out the door. He takes his time with each person, ensuring they have exactly what they need, including explicit directions on how, what temperature and how long to cook it.
While waiting in line I had recited in my head how I was going to ask for the meat in perfect French sentences but when Serge focused his big blue eyes on me all I could get out was “un kilo d’agneau pour cette” (1 kilo of lamb for this) and I handed him my recipe with the above picture. He replied with something that I didn’t understand and everyone in the store laughed so I just shrugged my shoulders and gave my standard “désolé” (sorry). He winked and proceeded to painstakingly and precisely cut 1 kilo of lamb into perfect squares for the stew. He even sawed the bone into 1 inch pieces! I then paid Mrs. Perraud, who keeps a watchful eye on the cash register as well as her husband… sorry, the stew…
I bought the carrots (carotte), turnips (navet), shallots (échalot) and spinach (épinard) at the Place Monge marché from Bernard et Michelle. Bernard, always in a jovial mood, has a ready smile and delights in sharing ideas on how to cook things. The problem is when he gets going, he talks so fast I can’t understand him so I just nod and say “oui” and hope he's not telling me something like “you are a stupid American, your French is terrible, and you can't cook to save your life” but I think I would understand that, as I heard it every day in cooking school, but that's another story...
This recipe for Medium Rare Lamb Stew, which comes from Michael Chiarello’s web site NapaStyle as well as his Tra Vigne Cookbook, is near fool-proof as every time I’ve made it, it turns out great, and if a fool like me can make it…well you know the rest. I couldn’t find any spring onions (probably because it’s winter!) so I used small shallots and I didn’t feel like the strong taste of swiss chard so I used spinach. I also added about a cup of button mushrooms as I was a bit short on the turnips. Fresh rosemary was not to be found so I used dried and it was fine. It’s definitely a different flavor than when using fresh rosemary (which I prefer) but it was still good, just different. Cans of Swanson chicken broth are non-existent in this country so I used that nasty powered stuff that I don’t recommend at all. I watered it down and used more wine. Like Julia Child said, nothing can cover the taste of bad food... except perhaps a little scotch ;-)
And speaking of, for the wine, Jeff brought a 2002 Bordeaux Mouton Cadet which was perfect with the lamb stew.
For the polenta, I simply used a box of the instant polenta (Nadine stirred) and when it finished cooking I took it off the heat and stirred in some mascarpone! oooh la la!
For dessert I made Jacques Pépin’s Caramelized Pineapple Wedges from his new book and PBS TV Show, Fast Food My Way. I worked on this show as the back kitchen chef last May (which I've told you a million times and will continue to tell you every chance I get so my apologies in advance but it was one of the coolest things I've ever done in my life!) and this was one of the recipes I made. If you saw this show, you saw my food! :-) It is about as easy as it gets and is really delicious as you have the sweet flavor and freshness of the fruit with a delicious caramelized orange sauce. I didn’t have rum so I used Cognac (oh darn!) and I don’t like pistachios so I chopped a handful of pecans and toasted them in a dry sauté pan. Pas mal (not bad) as they say here in France, because they would rather die than pay a complement….but that’s another story… on to the Lamb stew!
this is what the lamb stew really looks like when it is made by a mere mortal or by someone who used to burn water!
Michael Chiarello's Medium-Rare Lamb Stew with a few changes by me...
1 pound lamb, fat and silver skin removed (ask the butcher for the stew meat cut)
sea salt and pepper
1½ teaspoons ground fennel spice (I toasted whole fennel seeds and Jeff ground them with a mortar and pestle, or use the bottom of a frying pan)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I just poured about a cup on a plate and made sure I patted the meat well after dredging so there were no clumps of flour)
1 cup shallots, peeled & quartered through the root end to hold it together
1 cup carrot chunks, peeled (½” chunks)
1 cup turnip chunks, peeled (½” chunks)
1 cup button mushrooms (optional)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (I used demi-sel, what's a little salt among friends?)
1 cup red wine (I used an inexpensive Bordeaux from Franprix)
4 cups chicken broth (it calls for double-strength but the lamb is so good I wanted the full flavor of the lamb to come through and besides, all they have here is the nasty powdered stuff)
1 teaspoon dried rosemary (use fresh if you have it!)
2 large handfuls spinach, stems removed (or 2 cups swiss chard)
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1. Cut the lamb loin in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces. The pieces should be fairly large so they do not get overcooked. Season well with salt, pepper and fennel spice.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot. Dust the lamb with 2 tablespoons of the flour. Add the lamb to the pan, spreading out the pieces so there is room around them. Do not move the pieces until moisture begins to show on the tops and they have browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Then turn the pieces to continue to brown, about 2 minutes longer. Do not overcook. The lamb should be medium-rare. Remove the meat to a large plate.
3. Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add the onions, carrots and turnips to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until the vegetables are well caramelized, about 10 minutes. Regulate the heat so the vegetables do not burn. Add the butter and continue to cook for another 2 minutes.
4. Dust the remaining 1 tablespoon flour over the contents of the pan, stir, and cook over medium heat for another minute.
5. Add the wine, bring to a boil over high heat, and cook until reduced by half.
6. Add the stock, return to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms as the stock comes to a boil.
7. Add the rosemary for the last few minutes. (The stew may be made to this point a day ahead. Refrigerate the liquids and meat separately. Do not freeze, or you will lose the freshness and texture of the meat. When ready to eat, bring the liquids to a boil.)
FINISH & SERVE
8. Return the meat to the pan, add the chard and parsley, and simmer for 1 minute.
9. Season with salt and pepper and pour stew into soup plates on top of a bed of soft polenta.
Hey, I bet this would be good with potimarron! Hmmm….. next weekend… must go watch the Superbowl sans Janet and her bout du sein exposé.
Jacques Pépin’s Caramelized Pineapple Wedges
6 tbsp butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup orange juice
4 tbsp dark rum (or cognac)
1 cup pistachio nuts, chopped (or pecans, toasted)
1. Remove skin and core from pineapple. Cut pineapple into 8 wedges
2. Heat butter, brown sugar, juice in skillet over med heat and stir til just moistened. Add the pineapple wedges in 1 layer, bring to a boil, cover and cook for 6-7 minutes without stirring.
3. Uncover, turn wedges over and continue to cook, uncovered for 6-8 minutes, shaking the pan in the end, until the syrup is a dark thick caramel. Turn the wedges again to coat with the caramel sauce.
4. Transfer to serving plates, sprinkle with rum and pistachio nuts.
Disclaimer: This picture at the top of the lamb stew is not mine, it's much too professional and the food is too perfect to ever be mine. It is from the NapaStyle web site where I found the recipe. The pictures of this dinner are in Christians’s camera and as soon as he emails them to me, I’ll post it, promise! This definitely looks better than mine, so use this as the ideal.