For the adventuresome cook: how to stuff a breast of lamb

It is axiomatic, incomprehensible, and wonderful that the best-tasting cuts of meat are the cheapest. Not the tenderest, most luxurious cuts, mind you, but the ones that have the flavor to stand up to stewing that will make them melt in the mouth.

One of my favorite cuts of this kind, or of any kind, come to think of it, is breast of lamb. I have never paid more than 89 cents a pound for this delicacy and have often found it, even in the heart of expensive New York City, for as little as 59 cents.

Butchers, when they have it, are glad to get rid of it. When they do not have it, they are glad to get it for you because their wholesalers are also glad to get rid of it.

A certain amount of work is required to prepare the meat for stuffing. My pictureless description of the boning operation may help you, but try to get your butcher to show you what needs to be done.

When I say not to trim too much fat off, I mean it. I used to leave only a tiny bit, but then I was served a nearly untrimmed stuffed breast of lamb at a good Auvergnat restaurant in Paris and learned that the extra bit of fat makes all the difference between delicious meat and truly succulent meat. Stuffed Breast of Lamb 2 whole pieces breast of lamb 3 medium onions 4 cloves of garlic 4 tablespoons butter Olive oil or vegetable oil 2 carrots 1 stalk celery Parsley and thyme to taste 2 bay leaves 6 whole peppercorns Chopped herbs to taste 1 egg 1/2 cup bread crumbs 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped Salt and pepper

The first step is preparation of the meat. This can be done by your butcher, or you can do it at home if you have time.

It is a simple boning job, and breast of lamb is one of the easier cuts of meat to bone out. Start at the edge where the cut ends of the ribs are visible and begin to separate the flesh from the bones by keeping your sharp knife essentially parallel to the sheet of rib bones.

At the place where the ribs are joined into a ridge, scrape against the bone with the knife and go all the way around that ridge.

There is also a corset-stay-like strip of cartilage which you must cut out. Don't worry if the odd half-ounce of meat remains on the bones. It will enrich your sauce or stuffing.

Next, cut, or have the butcher cut, the bones into separate ribs and cut each rib into several segments.

Young lamb bones are quite soft, and a big kitchen knife or small cleaver will be more than adequate. If you find it difficult going, don't worry. Even left in one piece, the bones will do the job.

What you have now is the bones plus two rather triangular pieces of meat. Do not trim too much fat away.

Where there are chunks of solid fat at the base side of the triangle you may trim a bit more, but try to leave a nice layer of fat just about everywhere on the meat. It will keep the meat succulent and moist.

Cut off the pointed end of the triangles, leaving two rough rectangles of meat, each 7 or 8 inches long by about 5 inches. The triangles you have trimmed off will go into the stuffing.

Combine one onion, finely minced, with 2 tablespoons of the butter and 2 cloves of garlic in a covered pan over very low heat and stew 10 to 15 minutes until fully cooked. Cool. Cut other two onions coarsely.

In a 3-quart pan put in a little oil and brown lamb bones quite thoroughly on all sides. Add coarsely chopped onions, carrots, celery, and 2 remaining cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped.

Brown awhile, then add water to cover parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns.

Lower heat and bring stock slowly to boil. Simmer for a good hour or two. If bones are cut up, it will not take as long to get the good out of them.

By the time the stock is simmering, the minced onions should be cooked and cooling. Grind the triangles of lamb in a food processor or meat grinder, or cut them by hand on a chopping board.

Do not grind them to a mush. If you are using a meat grinder employ the medium screen, and if you are using any other process employ common sense.

In a bowl, combine stewed onions and garlic, meat, chopped herbs of whatever kind you like, and an egg. Stir well with a rubber spatula or your hands.

Add bread crumbs, walnuts, and salt and pepper. If you have any spinach around you may add a handful of that, as well, as long as it has not been too heavily cooked. Keep this stuffing in the refrigerator until ready to proceed.

Place half the stuffing on each rectangle of meat in an even line going across the short width of the rectangle.

Form a roll by bringing the sides of the meat up around the stuffing. Sew it closed with a few stitches of strong thread. Do not make too tight a package or stuffing will be squeezed out as the meat shrinks.

Brush or rub on oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place in uncovered casserole in oven preheated to 400 degrees F. Baste the meat from time to time, allowing it to brown for about an hour.

By now the stock will be ready to strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Skim off some of the surface fat. You need not do this too thoroughly, as there will be time when the dish is finished to degrease the sauce.

When the meat has browned for its allotted time, add 11/2 to 2 cups of stock and a bay leaf to the casserole, bring liquid to simmer, and cover casserole tightly with a layer of aluminum foil under the lid for a tight seal.

Lower oven heat to 300 degrees F. and return casserole to cook 1 to 1 1/4 hours. From time to time you may open it up, baste the meat, and enjoy the smell.

The meat should be wonderfully tender now. Put it onto a platter, cover loosely with foil, and keep warm. Strain liquid into a saucepan and boil down to no more than 1 cup. A little bit of concentrated sauce on each serving is the goal, not lots of less flavorful liquid.

Skim off fat and stir in 2 tablespoons butter over low heat. The butter will give the sauce a sheen and very slightly hold it together. Serves 5 or 6.

Remove thread from meat, carve in 3/8-inch slices, and serve with a spoonful of sauce on each serving.

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