So this then raises the question, why bother? I’ll tell you why. Confiting* lamb in this way produces the most unctuous, flavourful, savoury, fall-aparty melt-in-the-mouthy, “oh my God that’s amazing” meat, and what’s more it comes neatly presented in perfect, user-friendly uniform little portions, that will only takes 20 mins whenever you’re ready… depending on how well the dates going of course.
On top of all that it uses lamb shoulder, which is considerably cheaper (£6/kg) than other show-boating options, probably because it’s not much of a looker, compared to, say, rack of lamb, for example (£17/kg).
1 Lamb shoulder
25g-ish or 2 heaped tablespoons of sea salt
1 litre/kg duck or goose fat
Bunch of thyme
4 average cloves garlic
For this you need a shoulder of lamb, boned out. The easiest way to achieve this is simply by telephoning your local butcher and asking for “one lamb shoulder boned out, please”. An average lamb shoulder of about 2 – 2.5kg will portion into 8 – 10 servings. You could of course halve this. But it doesn’t take any longer or create any more work or washing up to do a whole one, and it’ll freeze perfectly well so if I was you, I’d go for a whole one. As Madhur Jaffrey would say, “it’s like money in the bank”.
The night before;
Check your lamb for any bits of bone and if necessary cut through any thick sections to flatten it out, but keeping it as a whole.
Crush 4 average cloves of garlic and smear it all over the fleshy side of the lamb. This doesn’t have to be perfect, it’ll be washed off in the morning. Sprinkle over 2 heaped tablespoons of sea salt, evenly, (under no circumstances should you use table salt). Separate a generous bunch of thyme into its twigs and scatter these over. A few twists of black pepper on a course setting would not go amiss either.
Now, roll it up on itself like it’s your cozzie in your swimming towel, wrap it in cling film and put it in something that will collect any liquid leakage. Shove it in the bottom of your fridge overnight.
The next morning:
Put the duck or goose fat in a large pan, one that’ll go in the oven - probably the largest pan you’ve got, and set it on the hob to melt it gently. You might find that starting it off in the microwave makes it easier to get out the jar if it’s been in the fridge. Preheat the oven on a low heat to 140 ⁰C.
Wash off all the ‘marinade’ ingredients under cold running water. Don’t be all day about it, the idea of salting last night was to expel water from the meat, so be quick and to the point.
Dry the meat thoroughly in a clean tea towel. You will find if you try to use kitchen roll the paper will stick to the fat of the lamb, like fat to a blanket. Don’t leave that tea towel lying around, shove it in the washing machine immediately.
Now cut the lamb into two equal pieces, going with the grain so to speak.
Roll each piece into a log and tie each piece roughly with string. It doesn’t have to be beautiful, this is for your eyes only. You may swear aloud during this process. The aim though is to cook the meat in roughly the shape it will be set in.
Pop both pieces into the warmed duck fat, which should have no more than a gentle bubbling going on, cover with a lid and put in the oven for 2.5 hours. Periodically check that the fat isn’t getting too hot, there should be multiple bubbles surfacing gently and randomly, certainly nothing that resembles a boil.
If your lamb was rolled thick and fat, you may need to give it another half an hour; it should pierce very easily with a meat fork and need lifting out with the aid of 2 large spoons.
Let the meat rest for 15 mins, then cut off the string with scissors.
Now, to set the shape, tear off a large piece of cling film, lay it away from you ‘portrait’. Place a piece of lamb at the front edge and roll it tightly in the cling film. Snip off the excess from both ends. Repeat this with a second piece of cling film, gently squeezing the lamb as you roll to ‘iron out’ any uneven lumps and bumps.
With a third piece of cling film, repeat as before, but this time hold the ends of the cling film and pinch it as close to the end of the meat as you can, and now roll it away from you whilst holding the ends, to form a tight, compressed cylinder.
Put them somewhere to cool as quickly as possible, then shove them in the fridge as soon as you can. Two or three hours undisturbed in the fridge should be sufficient to set them and get them cold right the way through.
All you have to do now is to slice them or portion them as you like depending on what you’re serving them with. I cut each roll into 4 or sometimes 5 little barrels. You could if you wanted slice them into inch thick rounds and serve two or three.
Reheat them, wrapped in baking paper on a baking tray in a hot oven at 200 ⁰C, for 20 mins. The side in contact with the baking tray will take on some nice golden colour as it bastes in its own fat juices, this is your presentation side.
*“The general sense has been to immerse a food in and often impregnate it with a substance that both flavours it and preserves it. In modern usage of the term confit, the connotations of immersion, impregnation, flavouring and slow deliberate preparation survive, while the idea of preservation- and the special flavour that develops over the months -has faded away.”
Harold McGee; McGee on Food & Cooking