Dancing With The Past
Our dear old friends Rebecca and Bill came to dinner. Instead of commiserating with us about how hard it must have been to leave France, Bill kept insisting “But what’s good about being back? I want to hear about the good stuff.” So here you go: one of the very best things is that Rebecca was wearing her party slippers, which prompted me to don mine as well. Aren’t we a pair?
For a few hours, our party-slippered feet together under the table, it felt just like old times. Rebecca had grown the vegetables, the leeks and Brussels sprouts for the soup, the braising greens that nestled under a mound of sweet scallops, the fine and fancy spring salad greens that offset my newest creation, Dark Mocha Lamb.
The meal itself revealed so many changes in our life, though. I had to call our guests just as they were leaving the house to ask them to bring bread. It’s been so long since I’ve had to plan ahead for bread, other than asking Shel to run next door to the bakery at the last moment, that I’d completely forgotten it. Then, I put out the tiniest possible amount of food with the pre-dinner drink. In the past I used to make lots of delicious stuff to go with drinks, but now I have come to appreciate the super-simple French approach, a bowl of olives or almonds, possibly nothing more than that, to save one’s appetite for the meal. A mise en bouche of a small sippable cup of soup, made to use up a heap of chicken bones and a small bowl of Brussels sprouts? Again, tout à fait Français.
Since we’ve been back, even though I’m theoretically a great fan of local products, I just can’t help myself. I keep buying French wine, much as it pains me to cough up $15 for a vin de pays. But my palate is so tuned to the restraint and structure of French wine now that everything else tastes over the top. So I had this wine, which you can read about here, and I wanted to make a dish to complement it. I tasted a small sip, hastily decanted it and came back again in an hour, tasted again, mmm, coffee, pepper, chocolate. Et voilà, Dark Mocha Lamb was born.*
Dark Mocha Lamb
8 small (or 4 large) lamb sirloin steaks
thyme, and bay leaf, ground together roughly and mixed with coarse salt**
coarsely ground black pepper
3 T olive oil
2 T Dijon mustard
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee (I recommend a good decaf)
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 T dark rum
2 squares very dark chocolate (I used Lindt 90% Supreme Dark)
Sprinkle the lamb on both sides with the herb blend and plenty of pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet and brown the steaks on both sides over high heat, a minute or two per side, until nicely browned. Remove the meat from the pan and place in a heavy, oiled roasting pan. Spread the mustard over the top surfaces of the lamb steaks.
Add the coffee to the hot skillet, stirring and scraping vigorously to deglaze. Lower the heat, add the rum, the cream, and the chocolate, stirring constantly to obtain a smooth sauce. Let the sauce reduce for several minutes until it’s as thick as heavy cream. Taste for salt. Spoon the sauce over the lamb. You can prepare the recipe to this point an hour or so ahead, and just let it rest at room temperature, which makes it really nice for a dinner party.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Roast the lamb for 8-10 minutes, until it reaches 120° on a meat thermometer for a beautifully rare steak. Spoon the pan juices over the meat and serve. If at all possible, eat it with people who insist that you focus on the good things in life.
*inspired by this recipe
**Make the herb blend. Make lots, you’ll be wanting to use this on everything. Start with a ratio of 2 T dried thyme to one small bay leaf, and adjust to your taste.