You really want to use Karoo lamb for this dish as we did recently. Lorraine and Guillau du Toit are our Karoo lamb suppliers. They farm in Williston, Lorraine says their sheep graze on soetgras – sweet grass. The taste of their lamb – we choose two toothed hoggets – is as unique as the Salt Marsh Lamb from Harlech in Wales where they graze on salt marshes that have never been farmed in the modern sense, eating particularly one grass called sparta.
I usually drive out to Bellville at crack of dawn on a delivery Saturday to fetch the meat.
In France this type of lamb is also regarded as a great delicacy and justly so for its rich, slightly salty flavour. In the Legend of Mont St. Michel, Guy du Maupassant describes a meal prepared by St Michael for Satan, during which some pré-salé lamb “as tender as cake” was served.
Pré-salé – pre-salted – lamb that feeds on the salty marsh grass of the Bay of Mont-St.-Michel has put the town on the roster of France’s 100 sites remarquables du goût – places with a unique local speciality.
This dish is perfect in the middle of summer when the lamb was fat on early summer pastures and the garlic is fresh and still green.
It is not easy to find fresh garlic here, use it if you are lucky enough to find it. If not, use heads of garlic and carefully remove as much of the papery outer covering without disturbing the head. If you like, you can cut off the tops of the cloves to expose them to the sauce. They will become rich and sweet during the long slow cooking.
2 shoulders of lamb
sea salt and freshly milled black pepper
4 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs butter
2 heads of very fresh garlic, trimmed but with green shoots left on
6 – 8 sprigs fresh thyme
24 shallots or pickling onions – peeled and left whole, especially have the root still attached, as it will hold the whole onion together
600ml full-bodied red wine
250ml NoMU Lamb Fond
1 Tbs dried herbs – I use ‘Italian herbs’ or Herbes de Provence
Method: Preset the oven at 220C. Place the lamb on a board and lightly stab or score the fat all over. Season the joints with the salt and pepper and massage the seasoning in. In a lidded shallow oven proof casserole or oval roasting tin heat the oil and add the butter. Over medium heat, brown on the fat side, then turn fat side up and brown on the underside. Tuck in the garlic, thyme and the shallots or pickling onions. Pour in the wine and the water, sprinkle with the herbs and bring the liquid to the bubble. Put in a 220C oven, uncovered and roast for 30 minutes. Then turn down the oven to 150C, cover the lamb with foil and braise for 2 to 2½ hours, or until so tender that the meat will fork easily from the bone. Now, if you have the time, allow it to stand overnight and next day, remove all the fat from the surrounding sauce. Reheat carefully in a 180C oven. Or simply spoon the excess fat off the top, reduce the sauce, season well and thicken with buerre manié – equal quantities of butter and flour kneaded together.
You just have to serve this with creamy mashed potatoes, some crisp bread and a green salad.
Serves 8 generously.
We are great believers in using quality wine in cooking. As this is a rustic dish, we chose Diemersdal Grenache 2011 as it was our wine of choice to drink with it. Thys Louw, winemaker f this well known and much lauded Durbanville Wine Estate is a master at Sauvignon Blanc, so do look out for one if his, either under the Diemersdal label, or Sir Lambert, or Sauvignon.com.