Whether you celebrate Easter or not, chances are you’re enjoying a long holiday weekend and this is a great time for the year’s first big family dinner.
If you don’t already have a turkey thawing in the fridge, maybe there’s time for you to consider some alternatives. I’ve got a couple of ideas that might inspire you.
Roasted Shoulder of Lamb with Gravy
This used to be the last piece of the animal cooked because it was fatty and tough. Cost alone elevates its status these days, but cooked properly, lamb shoulder is succulent and juicy and flavourful and perfect for a holiday treat.
Go to the butcher’s counter in a large grocery store and ask if they have one of these — your chances are good this time of year. Be sure to say you want the whole shoulder, although be prepared for the shock of the price tag. If you can’t get a whole shoulder, this recipe also works with shanks, although you will need to reduce the cooking time because you are dealing with smaller pieces of meat.
If you are planning to serve supper at 6, then take the first step in the recipe at about 10 in the morning. The longer the cooked lamb sits, the more tender and delicious it becomes, so don’t be afraid to get way out in front of this one. Count on serving at least 6 people.
1 bone-in lamb shoulder (2 to 3 kg), fat cap still attached
2 tbsp. coarse salt
1 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 each stalks celery, medium carrots, and yellow onions
1 bulb garlic, broken into cloves, peeled but left whole
4 fresh (or 6 dry) bay leaves
1 handful each fresh sprigs rosemary, thyme and parsley
4 large beef short ribs
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 bottle decent dry red wine
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup each all-purpose flour and melted unsalted butter
2 tbsp. champagne or white wine vinegar
Trim off and discard all but 1/4-inch of the lamb’s fat cap. Score it crosswise every inch with a sharp knife but be careful not to cut into the meat. Rub on all sides with salt and pepper; allow to sit at room temperature about 1 hour.
Scrub clean — no need to peel — and quarter the celery, carrots and onions. Scatter in a large, heavy roaster together with garlic, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme and parsley. Place lamb, fat side up, on top of vegetables. Nestle the beef short ribs around it. Whisk together oil and vinegar and pour over top. Roast at 325 F for 4 hours, uncovered, until the bones are pulling easily from the meat. Baste occasionally with the fat and juice that accumulates in the roaster. Remove the lamb and cover with foil and a couple of tea towels; keep in a warm place while you make the gravy.
Add red wine and broth to the roaster — leave in the short ribs — and bring to a simmer. Cook together for as long as you have time for, but at least half an hour. Strain and allow to rest until you can pour off the fat. Place defatted juices in a heavy pot and bring up to a boil. Combine flour and butter and microwave together until bubbling hot. Whisk into boiling juices but use just enough to make a gravy thickened to your taste. Stir in champagne vinegar and add salt and pepper if needed. Slice lamb — it pretty much falls apart for you — and serve with gravy and vegetables of your choice. The beef ribs and roasted veggies from the roaster are spent but still make a pretty tasty cook’s treat.
Ham is no doubt more economical and easier for a novice cook. Prepared properly, it is also a feast on a platter.
If you are challenged in the kitchen, then consider buying one of the spiral pre-cut hams and heat it up following the package directions. I have to admit it’s not a bad compromise, but I prefer a big old ham butt with the knuckle intact so I can count on a pot of pea soup once the feast is done.
A 12- to 15-lb. ham, bone in, feeds 8 or 10 people. Using a meat thermometer is the absolute safest method of cooking ham, and you’re going for an internal temperature of 145 F. At 325 F, that will take about 10 minutes per pound, but the shape of the meat can have a real impact on that.
Today’s ham doesn’t need to be boiled before baking, but if that’s what you’ve always done, feel free to keep doing it. I prefer the covered, slow-baked method for the tastiest result.
If you buy one of those little deboned, pressed oval lumps, then there’s nothing I can do for you.
1 large bone-in roasting ham
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 cups orange juice
1 cup pineapple juice
2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 whole cinnamon sticks (or 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon)
12 whole cloves
1/4 tsp. whole allspice berries (or 1 pinch ground allspice)
Cut the thick, brown fat cap off the ham and discard, leaving about 1/4 inch of fat. Place ham in a foil-lined roaster (for easier cleanup). Rub oil all over the ham and sprinkle on the thyme. Cover tightly and roast at 300 F for 2 hours. Remove cover and discard thyme stalks. Score the fat with a sharp knife — diamond shapes are seriously retro but still fabulous.
While the ham is baking in the first step, make the glaze. Combine butter, orange juice, pineapple juice and brown sugar in a heavy pot and bring to a boil. Add cinnamon sticks, cloves and allspice and simmer over low heat, partially covered, until it is a thick syrup — half an hour or so. Strain out and discard the spices. Pour a few spoonfuls of the glaze over the ham and put back in the oven at 400 F. Bake another hour, adding a little glaze every now and then, until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees F. Keep a close watch to make sure it doesn’t scorch — feel free to reduce the heat by 25 or 50 degrees if you think it’s all happening too fast. Allow the ham to rest, covered, at least 30 minutes before carving. Serve with remaining glaze on the side.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.