I had heard about this leg of lamb for a very long time – it had become a mythical dish, an urban legend.
I had been told intricate stories of how some decades ago, a young musician was invited for an intimate dinner hosted by none other than Miles Davis in his Paris apartment with his private chef, where he was welcomed with warmth, strong drinks and a kind of mind-numbing, insanely buttery, slow cooked and much loved leg of lamb that simply fell off the bone, marking the young musician’s palate for anything lamb – forever. Any dish that involved lamb from that point on was always to be tasted in light of that night in Paris. Apparently, Miles Davis refused to give him the recipe for this dish, saying that it was a family secret.
That young musician is now 73 years old, and is now known as Herbie Hancock. He still talks about that lamb – sometimes with misty eyes, remembering his youth, reminiscing about his mentor Miles Davis, all of it intertwined with the enigmatic culinary experience of that night in Paris.
So when Herbie came through Paris the other day with his buddy Marcus Miller, I decided that I would make him this lamb, along with a bunch of other things – just in case the lamb did not turn out as well as he remembered it. For years now, I had heard about this lamb, and every now and then, I would look for recipes for slow-cooked lamb for special dinners or for the holidays, but I never found the kind of browned-buttered-roux-based slow cooked lamb that he had always talked about. Most leg of lamb dishes call for either a short roasting on high heat in the oven with tender pink rose insides (the French way), or the braised white wine kind with paprika paste (the Portuguese way), or the slow roasted leg with aromatics, water and onions (the Greek way). But I wanted the creamy, buttery, caramelized lamb, tenderly falling off the bone yet crunchy on its outer crust. So I had to just wing it. To make matters worse, I am admittedly not a very good roux cooker. To my dismay, I multitask, especially when I cook and so I constantly and always, without fail, forget the sauce base slowly burning to a bitter dark inedible crisp on the stove.
So this time, I patiently hovered over my dutch oven, quietly tended to my roux as if nothing else in the world mattered, all slowly slowly, until the roux turned from pale blandness to dark golden liquid. I added the leg of lamb, fresh thyme, pearl onions, a tomato and garlic, and 9 hours of fat-skimming-on-the-surface-with-a-ladle later, out came this other-worldly leg of lamb. So soft, so delicate and subtle in its flavor. I decided to serve it with succutash and rice, and before the dinner party started, Magnus had his own portion of lamb with rice, and I don’t think I have seen him eating quite as fast as he did this dish.
Not necessarily your everyday meal – unless you have ample time to hover over the stove – but for special occasions, so worth the effort.
It turned out I didn’t have to fret and make the extra salmon and chicken. It was all about the lamb.
Maybe not Mile’s lamb, but a lamb legitimately falling-off-the bone – warmly infused with laughter and friendship.
The 9 Hour Slow-Cooked Leg of Lamb
1 large leg of lamb
3 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons flour
4 cups water
1 garlic bulb
6-8 pearl onions
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a bottom-heavy pot, turn the heat to low and make the roux – add the butter, letting it melt. Add the flour and with a wooden spoon, slowly turn it and cook it for a good 7-10 minutes, until the color becomes light brown and there is a creamy texture.
2. Add the cold water and with a whisk, mix the liquid with the roux. Add the leg of lamb. The liquid should cover the lamb completely. Add more water if necessary so that the lamb is totally submerged.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook, covered, on low heat for 9 hours or longer ( it is even better the next day). Keep skimming the top of the sauce with a ladle in order to get rid of as much fat that rises to the surface as possible.
4. Serve with rice and vegetables.