Simple cooking, this is not, but for those with a bit of kitchen aptitude or just the steely determination that comes with extreme hunger, Slow Fires (Clarkson Potter) will reward you with a gorgeous, fully realized meal. The first book by chef Justin Smillie of New York’s Upland restaurant divides its recipes by technique—braising, roasting, and grilling—aiming to offer readers an advanced education in each. Smillie is clearly passionate about his craft and eager to share his well-earned knowledge, logged from years spent toiling away in New York kitchens (like Jonathan Waxman’s and at the beloved Il Buco), with the home chef. While many recipes are long and multi-layered, they are rooted in simple techniques and written with kindnesses to help you manage timing and prep. Smillie generously offers instructions for grilling with gas (a convenience most of us have come to rely on), but you will likely start coveting a charcoal version (I sure did) to better char your escarole and blister your peppers by burying them deep in its coals. You will likely also start formulating dinner party guest lists in your head as you peruse Slow Fires‘ pages; the truth is, these recipes (like the one excepted below) are best enjoyed when they’re shared. FV
BRAISED LAMB SHOULDER WITH ONION-ANCHOVY JAM
SERVES 6 TO 8
I grew up eating my grandmother’s pot roasts on Sundays and I loved that tradition. As a chef, I’ve often found myself re-creating elements of this weekly ritual. And so it is with this slow-braised lamb shoulder, which gets a sweet-salty-savory onion and anchovy coating, nodding to one of Italy’s most clever pairings. While at first glance this meal bears little resemblance to my grandmother’s cooking (she was Irish American and not really hip to the onion-and-anchovy thing), at the heart of this braise you’ll find the same meaty, mineraly pot-roast essence I fell for as a kid.
The basic braising practice outlined in preceding recipes is more or less followed in this preparation, with the onion-anchovy jam serving as the soffritto. As the shoulder braises, its outside turns soft and salty-sweet while its inside remains more taut and tasting more purely of lamb. Once sliced, fanned out, and doused in the reduced caramelized onion pan sauce, everything comes together like an unfussy Sunday supper ought to. But better.
3 to 4 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, preferably with a thick fat cap
2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more
3 tablespoons whole black peppercorns, toasted and lightly crushed
Olive oil, as needed
3 medium red onions, sliced very thin
10 garlic cloves, smashed or finely grated to a paste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
¼ cup Anchovy Paste
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon pimentón (smoked paprika)
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup fruity red wine
1 tablespoon agave or honey
1 quart Roasted Lamb Broth or Chicken Broth
SCORE, TIE, AND DRY-BRINE THE LAMB
If your lamb shoulder does not come with a thick fat cap, skip this scoring step. Place the lamb on a clean work surface so its fat side faces up. Hold a razor blade or very sharp paring knife at a 45-degree angle over one of the fat cap’s top corners. Score the fat on a diagonal, running the blade from the top corner down and across. When scoring, make sure not to cut through into the meat; each incision should just barely cut into the fat, about 1/8 inch deep. Continue scoring the fat in this fashion, spacing incisions 1/4 inch apart. Stop scoring the cap when the fat begins to taper off. Now, working in the opposite direction, repeat the scoring so a tight diamond pattern forms across the fat cap.
Season the lamb on all sides with 2 tablespoons of salt and the pepper. Tie the lamb up with butcher’s twine, using a standard butcher’s loop spaced at 1-inch intervals. The tied shoulder should form a uniform cylinder.
Place the shoulder on a cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Dry-brine the shoulder, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
BUILD THE BRAISE
Remove the lamb from the refrigerator. Set a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and swirl in 2 tablespoons olive oil (1/4 cup if your shoulder does not have a fat cap). When the oil is shimmering-hot, lay in the lamb, fat side down if that applies.
Sear the fat cap, lowering the heat if necessary to prevent scorching, for 10 minutes, or until it crisps and browns deeply. Then rotate, lightly searing all sides of the shoulder until they easily release from the pot and are a light golden brown. Transfer the lamb back to the cooling rack and set it aside. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pot, making sure to keep the fond in place.
Set the pot back over medium-low heat and stir in the onions, scraping up all of the fond on the bottom. Gently stew the onions for 45 minutes, or until they collapse and caramelize richly. Stir frequently so they color evenly; the longer you take in the step and the more you stir, the more profound the flavor will be.
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Stir in the garlic and cook for 10 minutes, or until its aroma blooms and softens.
Stir in the tomato paste and mustard and sauté for 2 minutes, or until the paste cooks into the onions. Add the anchovy paste, rosemary, and pimentón. Raise the heat to medium-high. Pour in the vinegar, wine, and agave. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the liquid turns syrupy and the onions are spreadably soft. Season with salt to taste.
Return the lamb shoulder to the pot with its fat cap facing up. Spoon and smear the onion jam all over the lamb and pour in enough lamb broth to cover two-thirds of the shoulder. Bring the broth up to a simmer, then reduce the heat to a lazy bubble.
Cover the pot and transfer to the center rack of the oven. Braise the lamb for 11/2 hours, or until its center is easily pierced with a knife or cake tester, but the meat is still bouncy when prodded. Every 30 minutes, baste the lamb, re-cover, and rotate the pot 90 degrees.
FINISH AND SERVE
Remove the pot from the oven and thoroughly baste the lamb shoulder with the juices and caramelized onions. Season with salt to taste. Re-cover and let the lamb rest for 30 minutes, or until the internal juices settle. (At this stage, you may cool it—ideally by placing the pot in a sink filled with ice water—and refrigerate it overnight. Rewarm it over a gentle, medium-low flame.)
To serve, transfer the lamb to a cutting board and cut away the twine. Slice the meat into thick slices and arrange them on a warm platter. Spoon the onion-anchovy pan sauce on top and serve with the Black-Eyed Peas with Butter Lettuce and Warm Butter Dressing (recipe follows) alongside or directly on top.