Boneless Leg of Lamb

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Years ago, I remember telling a friend that I wanted to take a butchering class some time. She said, “you mean you want to learn how to kill chickens?”

I then clarified that I wanted nothing to do with animals outside of my kitchen, but I wanted to know what to do with them once they were in my kitchen.

The extent of my butchering has been trimming beef tenderloins. This came from too many times purchasing packaged filet mignons, which looked perfect underneath the stretched plastic wrap, but when I got them home they would fall into 2 or 3 pieces.

That’s when I started buying whole tenderloins and being in charge of cutting the filets myself. It’s less expensive, and nothing goes to waste.

When on Amazon.com looking though cookbooks a few years ago, I came upon what seemed like a perfect reference book for me. It’s called The Butcher’s Apprentice, by Aliza Green, published in 2012.

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This book was my dream come true. Pretty much anything you need to learn how to do with meat is in this book, along with step-by-step directions. Recently I decided to de-bone a leg of lamb using the book.

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I opened it up and immediately noticed that the photos are mirror images of what they should be. I would have imagined the photos be from the butcher’s perspective, maybe using a camera attached to the ceiling.

I tried laying the book on the floor upside-down, but the angle of the camera was off for me.

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There was also no labeling of the leg of lamb. Turns out mine didn’t have a pelvis attached. The parts about shanks and femurs and so forth were lost on me – I was mostly trying to match what the meat looked like in the photos.

Basically, I gave up on my “prized” book, and just removed the two bones that I found, some fat, and some of the fell.

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What was left was a mess, but I seasoned it with garlic pepper and salt. Check out my scimitar! My husband thought I’d perhaps joined the dark side when he spotted it.

Then I pushed it all together, and tied it up.

I placed halves of garlic cloves, from about 5-6 cloves, into holes I made in the meat using the point of a knife.

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I poured some olive oil in a large roasting pan and placed the lamb on the oil. Then I turned over the lamb, making sure it was covered with oil.

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After more garlic pepper and salt, I put the lamb in the oven that was preheated to 400 degrees.

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After 10 minutes I used large forks to turn it over. The other side browned in about 5 minutes.

I reduced the oven to 325 degrees. I think the old standard is ten minutes a pound, but I decided to use my oven probe to make sure the lamb cooks only to medium rare, or 125 degrees.

The thing is, when you use a probe, you actually have to listen for the beeping that tells you that the probe has reached the desired temperature. I, unfortunately, was not in the kitchen, so the oven went to HOLD and continued to cook my precious lamb roast.

When I realized that the lamb had been in the oven too long, I quickly took it out of the pan and let rest on a cutting board.

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When I sliced it, the lamb wasn’t terribly overcooked, but it certainly wasn’t medium rare, which is how I love it. This is not a mistake I haven’t made before – I’ve got quite a few burnt pots to prove that I get distracted easily when I’m cooking.

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If lamb is cooked properly, just like a filet mignon, it doesn’t need much!

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I served the lamb with persillade and roasted tomatoes.

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The persillade was also wonderful with the tomatoes.

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The pinkest parts of the lamb were wonderful, probably because of the high quality of the meat.

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Overall, I’m really disappointed in this book. I don’t think photos taken from an observer’s perspective does anyone any good when trying to learn an involved skill like meat butchering. I had better luck closing the book and using common sense.

Spatchcocking

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I haven’t spatchcocked a chicken in almost 3 years. I know this because I discovered an old post on one from early in my blogging career. It was deleted because, like so many others, the photography was dreadful in those “early” days. But there’s also another reason.

Before, when I made a spatchcock chicken, I used a wonderful pan called a mattone. It was a flat-bottomed shallow clay pan with a glazed interio and a heavy flat lid. It was perfect for a small spatchcock chicken or poussin.

Sadly, though, the bottom cracked, and I can’t find a mattone anywhere online.

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But I found a really heavy press with a handle that I thought would solve the problem.

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Even after removing the chicken’s backbone, which is the whole point of a spatchcocked chicken, it can pop up instead of staying flat. This defeats the whole concept of cooking a uniformly thick chicken. It needs to lay flat – on its own or with weight on top.

So I set out to try out my new gadget. To spatchcock a chicken, get a good, whole chicken. Then to remove the backbone, use really good poultry shears. You first have to figure out what side of the chicken is the back, because I made that mistake once. The best hint is the little tail sticking out!

Cut up one side of the tail along the backbone, then do the other side.

Turn the chicken over and flatten it with your hands. You’ll hear a little crunch.

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There are many different ways to cook a spatchcock chicken, like outside on the grill, on the stove, or in the oven. Outside was out for me, with a heat index of 105 degrees. So I decided to do the browning on the stove, and finish the cooking in the oven at 350 degrees. 325 degrees would also work.

I first seasoned the chicken well, after patting the top and bottom dry with paper towels. I decided on duck fat, and melted some in my large flat griddle, and added some freshly cut thyme and rosemary.

I turned the heat to the highest setting and when the duck fat was hot I added the spatchcock chicken. Then I used my lid. Ingenious!
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After about 4-5 minutes, I turned the chicken over, replaced the lid, and browned the other side.

Then I put the griddle in the oven, and used a probe. I removed the chicken from the griddle after 155 degrees was reached, according to the probe and placed it to cool on a cutting board. See? Nice and flat!
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Using a large knife or cleaver, cut the chicken into pieces and serve.

You can see that the chicken is juicy, but also nicely browned.

I served it with a rosé, and it was a perfect combination. Although, I’ll probably not purchase this rosé again. It was a bit too sweet.
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note: I really love my oval Le Creuset skillet, found here on the Williams-Sonoma website. Sometimes you just need oval, and not round!

Roasted Turkey Breast

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Roasting a whole turkey is no more difficult than roasting a whole chicken. The preparation is easy as well; not much more is required than seasoning and a little oil.

Perhaps, at least in the U.S., because the turkey is associated with Thanksgiving, people tend to only purchase turkeys for the “big” meal. And then, one feels obligated by their families to fix a stuffing or two, and all of the other side dishes that are expected on the Thanksgiving table. And that doesn’t include organizing hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and desserts. It’s a lot of work.

It’s sad, really. Because in reality, the roast turkey requires the least amount of time and attention compared to all of the other Thanksgiving dishes. One just has to estimate when the turkey is done, so as to time everything for the dinner table.

But I think once Thanksgiving is over, we tend to forget about the delicious turkey because we associate it with all of the hard work involved with the Thanksgiving meal.

Where I live, whole turkeys are only available prior to Thanksgiving. And that’s the case online as well, from my experience.

This year I planned ahead, sort of. When I purchased my Thanksgiving turkey from Lobel’s* in New York City (lobels.com), I also bought a couple turkey “breasts.” The legs and wings have been removed, so you’re left with a breast-meat-only dismembered turkey. I only bought two, but that’s two more than I would have in my freezer post holidays.

I personally prefer dark meat, but my husband eats more meat than I do, so I got these turkey breasts more for him. And it doesn’t kill me to make a little sandwich with leftover turkey.

So we’re just in to the New Year, 2014, and I decided to roast one of these turkey breasts. Or, I guess you’d refer to these as two turkey breasts…

I’d love to offer you the pricing for this beast, but there’s no information online anymore. It disappeared. Once Thanksgiving is over, that’s it for turkeys! Perhaps I shall start some kind of write-in campaign to get turkeys year around! I think it’s sad that they only make an appearance once a year.

I actually contacted Lobel’s email service to see what they said about the availability of turkeys, and this is the response I received:

“Thanks for getting in touch about Lobel’s. The demand for their turkeys is heavily centered on Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas, which is why they are only offered in November and December.”

Okay, so maybe it was a dumb question. But I like turkey. If it’s properly cooked.

The key to cooking turkey, whether whole or sliced into cutlets, is to not overcook them. I think turkey might have a bad reputation as being dry, although turkey meat is only dry if overcooked. As in the case of my mother in law’s turkey, but that’s another story.

If you ever come across one of these turkey breasts, they’re worth a good roasting. I was very happy with the results.

Roasted Turkey Breasts

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Thaw the turkey breast(s) out completely. I let mine get to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the turkey breasts in a roasting pan and cover with oil. Then season generously with salt, garlic pepper and pepper. Or, use what you prefer.

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Begin roasting the turkey, and after 30 minutes or so of good browning, reduce the heat to 350 degrees. All of these directions of course depend on how precise your oven is, and at what temperature the turkey was when you put it in the oven. That’s why a good meat thermometer is a must. I remove turkey from the oven when the thermometer reaches 155 degrees.

Mine was done exactly one hour after I put it in. So don’t start poking the turkey with the thermometer after only 30 minutes. Give it some time. However, don’t let the turkey overcook, either. Then it will be a sad, dry mess. You’ll have to put it all in a soup to moisten the meat in order to choke it down.

My turkey breast(s) looked like this when it was done.
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Let it rest, just like you would a roast chicken, before slicing it.

With this cut there are no legs or wings to remove. Simply slice along the middle bone, called the keel bone, that runs in between the breasts. Slice as far as you can downward, parallel to this bone. Then turn the breast sideways and cut perpendicularly towards your slice. You are left with a beautiful breast, that you can then slice crosswise for make beautiful, manageable pieces for serving.

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If you prefer, remove the skin first. See how moist the turkey is?

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And if you’re like me, it’s way more fun to enjoy the turkey in a fun sandwich, like on a jalapeno ciabatta bun, with melted Swiss cheese, and a cranberry-walnut salsa. Thank you Emita, for the fabulous salsa!

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All of us turkey lovers just have to figure out how to get turkeys year ’round!

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* I have purchased organic, free-range turkeys ever since we could afford to, and the difference between these and store-bought turkeys is astounding. Lobel’s has always produced a good turkey, as has D’artagnan. They don’t even need brining.

Beef Stock

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Do you ever end up with a lot of beef bones? Maybe after de-boning a large roast? If you hate to waste food like I do, try this simple way to make beef stock using bones! It’s so simple, and yet a smart way to take advantage of leftover bones.

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Start by putting all of your trimmed bones in a large roasting pan. Globs of trimmed fat are fine as well. Some people believe in salting and peppering the bones and bits, but I just leave mine plain. After you’ve collected the stock, you can taste and season. That way, you also don’t end up with too salty of a stock.

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Roast the bones for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 375 degrees and continue roasting for another hour.

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Remove the pan from the oven and place it over 1 or two burners on the stove. Let the pan cool for a while, then add some filtered water to it.

Turn on the heat until the broth just boils, then turn it down to a low simmer. You could add other ingredients at this point, and seasonings like bay leaves, but I like to just leave it alone and keep it simple. Bones and water. And some fat.

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After about two hours, and occasionally turning the bones, you’re left with a beautiful broth like this.

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Let the mixture cool somewhat, then place everything through a colander over a large bowl and drain well. And there you have it.

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Refrigerate the broth overnight, then remove the fat layer before proceeding with a recipe.

I happened to use this broth when I made chili, and it was delicious!

note: This could be called either a stock or a broth. There are more involved home-made stocks, like those that also include vegetables, but personally I like just using the bones. Then I get the meaty beef flavor into my soup or stew via the stock/broth, and then add the aromatics at that time I’m preparing the soup or stew recipe. It’s just a personal choice.