Cook 7 Hours, Eat With Spoon
When it’s cold and wet and windy out, as it has been this weekend, my first thought is to put something into the oven to cook for the entire day. And when guests are coming, arriving all drenched and windblown, what better way to greet them than with a house warmed by the famous dish Gigot de Sept Heures, or Seven Hour Leg of Lamb?
There are probably a couple of things we need to clear up, right off the bat. In case you’re thinking that the sole and supreme expression of a leg of lamb is in rosy rare slices, prepare to think again. And in case you’re thinking that it’s never cold and wet and windy in the south of France, I submit into evidence this photo of our dining table.
Our outdoor flood plain of a dining table, that is, at which we most assuredly were not able to dine.
But indoors, all was warm and cosy. Because our friends are Dutch, we started with a knockout bottle of jenever that I brought back from Amsterdam in September. It’s Belgian, it’s distilled rye and malt, it’s aged for eight years, and it’s completely irresistible. If you ever see this bottle
buy it quick and take it home for a rainy day. I don’t think you’ll find the Gigondas, since Domaine de Coyeux is known principally for their muscat de Beaumes de Venise, but it’s a really nice bottle too, drinks very well now even though it’s quite young, and goes perfectly with lamb.
We did have a muscat, though, with the cheese.
This is a brousse de brebis, a fresh and fluffy, sweet and mild sheep cheese, served here with the confiture citre-citron that I made awhile back.
But the lamb was the thing, we all agreed, and you will too as soon as you try this recipe, which you can absolutely make at home with great success. There are lots of variations out there, but this is my recipe. And now it’s yours too.
Abra’s Gigot de Sept Heures
1 leg of lamb (3-4 lbs, 1,5 kilos), deboned and tied (save the bones!)
1 bottle off-dry or late harvest white wine*
1 large square of pork skin (optional)**
2 bulbs very fresh garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 bouquet garni of parsley, thyme, and bay leaf tied together
6 medium carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
8-12 large shallots, peeled and left whole (more if they’ll fit in your casserole)
salt, pepper, olive oil
Have the butcher remove the bones from the lamb and tie it for you, if at all possible. Rub the lamb generously with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and set it aside to come to room temperature, about 1 hour. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet and brown the meat very well on all sides. Do this slowly, it will probably take 15 minutes to get it well browned. If you have room in the pan, brown the bones as well as you can. If they don’t fit, brown them separately after you remove the lamb. Stick the cloves into 4 of the shallots.
Preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C. Line the bottom of a very large casserole with the pork skin, fat side down, or oil it well.
Put the meat, shallots, garlic, carrots, the browned bones, and the bouquet garni into the casserole. The shallots are especially delicious, so stuff in as many as you can. Pour the bottle of wine over all and cover the casserole tightly. Traditionally you’d seal the lid to the dish with a dough made of flour and water. I don’t have a huge lidded casserole, and most people don’t either these days, so I sealed my casserole very tightly with heavy aluminum foil. You want to prevent any evaporation in the early stages of cooking.
Place the casserole in the oven for 3-4 hours. After that time has passed, reduce the oven temperature to 275°F./135°C and cook for another 3-4 hours. This dish is very flexible, so the time is elastic. If you need to remove the casserole from the oven for an hour to bake a disappointing pear tart, as I did, or preferably something better, just let the meat rest undisturbed on the counter. If you need to start it the night before and finish it the day you want to serve it, do that.
For the final hour of cooking you want to have the dish uncovered. With a cup or ladle, scoop out as much of the sauce as you can, probably about 3 cups worth. Let the meat and vegetables continue to cook in the oven until well-bronzed. Let the sauce rest for half an hour, remove whatever fat has risen to the top, then boil the sauce gently for half an hour to reduce it to a smooth, pourable consistency.
When you’re ready to serve the main course, remove the bones and the bouquet garni from the dish, set the whole casserole directly on the table, and serve to your delighted guests with mashed potatoes whipped with crème fraîche and lots of butter, and a pitcher of the reduced sauce on the side. Et voilà! And yes, you will be able to eat this with a spoon, should you be so inclined. It’s that tender.
*I used a bottle of Tariquet Premières Grives, but just use something that’s not too sweet, not too expensive, but definitely not dry, and definitely white. Drink a red with the finished dish, but cook with a white. Trust me.
**In France this is couenne, and easy to find. It keeps the meat from sticking to the pot, and also adds an elusive richness to the sauce. If you can’t get pork skin, just oil the bottom of your dish.