It started with Nicky’s USA.
A couple weeks ago, Isaac suggested that we go check out this butcher near Burnside that supplies meat products to nearby restaurants. Of course I couldn’t pass up such an experience, and, assuming that he knew what he was talking about, I enthusiastically agreed. It wasn’t until last week, once our families left, that we actually began to plan the trip.
We decided to go last Wednesday, and the night before got together to look for ideas. Isaac left a post on my Facebook wall: let's look through my A16 cookbook tonight if you have time. A16 is Isaac’s favorite (perhaps the only book he uses?). It is beautiful, and holds many recipes for many types of meat. But I had just bought A Platter of Figs and was eager to look through it as well. In fact, I had been eying one particular spring recipe involving lamb that I wanted to try out. So I grabbed a pile of my books and headed over to his house. We sat down and thumbed through a few pages. Our conversation went something like this:
Let’s make lamb Isaac. It’s my favorite meat to eat once it gets warm. Tastes like summer.
I hate lamb.
Come on. It’s delicious.
I’ve been wanting to try this goat recipe [points at a recipe from A16]. What about that?
It’s braised. It’s too warm for braising.
I love braising.
I suggested a couple of other things, including the lamb from Platter of Figs, but Isaac kept coming back to the goat. Not really wanting to pick a fight, I conceded, and we moved to the Nicky’s website to check on prices.
Goat is too expensive. Don’t know why, but for the cut we wanted, it was going to come to something like 50 dollars. Neither of us wanted to pay that much. Isaac sighed.
Lamb was cheaper. And a good substitute for goat in the recipe. Yes! I thought. Just what I wanted! We agreed to go the next afternoon, leaving enough time for a proper salt of the meat before the party on Saturday. It seemed like a great plan.
Isaac and Matt picked me up the next afternoon and we drove into the bowels of the Southeast industrial district, passing warehouse after warehouse. When we finally located Nicky’s, we saw that there was no storefront, no real entrance save for the loading docks. We drove around the block and parked. Isaac pulled out his iPhone to call them, but first looked more carefully at the website: No walk-in orders. $125 minimum. Whoops. So much for Nicky’s USA.
Next resort: New Seasons. Their meat is still very good, usually local, and butchered in the store. After two checks in the back of the store and a conversation with the butcher, we finally got what we wanted – 5 and half pounds of on-the-bone lamb shoulder.
We lugged it back to my house, cut into the fat, and salted the hell out of it:
On Saturday I went to the Eastmoreland Market for San Marzanos (they are one of the few places that sell the good ones) and other goodies, and then we trekked up to the Portland Farmer’s Market for last minute vegetables – asparagus and chard:
I don’t know how I feel about the PFM – there are certainly lots of things to see and eat, but it’s a bit overwhelming. I tend to prefer the smaller markets, like Moreland or Milwaukie, where you can remember which stand had the freshest strawberries and the greenest greens. The food we bought was delicious, but I’m sure I could have gotten just as good produce from somewhere less stressful.
Anyway, we spent the next few hours cooking and cleaning – I got the lamb in the oven and worked on four different pizza appetizers:
Isaac went on a beer mission and then cooked the chard with a tomato-anchovy sofrito to serve with the lamb. Some of the guests generously brought other things to eat as well, like Robin’s killer cardamom caramel brownies:
Everything tasted awesome. The lamb especially. Cooked slowly for four hours in a mixture of its own rendered fat, tomatoes, garlic, rosemary, and cinnamon, we probably couldn’t have gone wrong. We couldn’t move it out of the pot without the roast completely falling apart. It even converted a few non-lamb eaters, Isaac included, and disappeared in a matter of minutes.
Lamb Shoulder with Tomatoes, White Wine, and Rosemary
(adapted from A16)
5 ½ pounds on-the-bone lamb shoulder
about 2 tablespoons kosher salt
¼ cups olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with a knife
2 sprigs rosemary
2 cups dry white wine (we forgot to buy this, so we used a left-over pino gris, which worked alright)
28-oz San Marzano tomatoes
½ teaspoon cinnamon
The night before cooking, make a series of cuts in the shoulder, especially in the top layer of fat, and rub the kosher salt all over the lamb. Wrap the lamb in a plastic bag and put it in the fridge.
The next day, take the lamb out to come to room temperature as you prepare the rest of the braise.
Preheat the oven to 275°. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a 5-qt (or larger) Dutch oven. Add the garlic and cook for 5-10 minutes, until soft and browned. Add the rosemary and the wine. Bring to a simmer and reduce the wine almost completely (this can take quite a while – be patient). Walk by the stove several times and smell. It’s awesome.
Once the wine is reduced, add the tomatoes and cinnamon. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat. Squeeze the lamb into the pot and spoon some of the mixture over the top. Cover with the lid and stick in the oven. Let the meat braise for 3½ to 4 hours, or until the meat is super tender and falling off the bone. Again, I recommend checking on it every hour or so, just to pull off the lid and smell.
Once the meat is done cooking, move the pot to the stove. Take the lamb out the best you can and remove the meat from the bones and return it to the pot. Stir everything together and serve to a group of hungry post-college students.