Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Organic Lamb with Baby Turnips & Pea Greens

Last Monday I mentioned that I'd be at Black Cat Farm Table Bistro hosting an upcoming episode of the Culinary Gardening series.

With camera gear crammed into his kitchen, we filmed Eric Skokan, the farm and bistro owner, preparing a dish from his daily-changing menu, one that featured vegetables and greens he'd harvested from the farm that day.

I also took pictures, in between asking lots of questions. I began by asking where the lamb for the dish came from. You see, Eric is now grazing lambs for his bistro on his farm.

However, the lamb he used for this dish came from another local organic farmer.

The cut he used for the meal is steaks from the lamb leg. He prepared them by browning the steaks on one side in a small skillet lined with oil, and sealing the other side before popping the skillet into a medium oven for about 15 minutes (rare to medium-rare).

I was a bit dubious about cooking lamb steaks like this, since in Australia we might use the eye fillet or the eye of the loin (like a beef tenderloin) for the cooking method Eric employed.

To accompany the lamb, Eric prepared just-picked baby turnips, with green tops intact, and sugar snap-pea greens with flowers still intact.

Using grapeseed oil for sauteing -- it can withstand high heat and is mild in flavor -- he added half a teaspoon of chopped garlic to the pan, and some peeled and cubed potato.

While the potato cooked, he chopped the leafy tops from the tiny turnip bulbs, leaving an inch of sweet stems in place.

When sauteed, the turnip stems release their sugars and brown up beautifully, as do the bulbs (pic below).

As the cubed potato browned, he tossed in a handful of the snap-pea greens and a pinch of kosher salt. Some of the raw pea greens were kept in reserve to garnish the plate (pic above).

Eric uses either kosher salt in his cooking or sometimes sel gris or grey salt, an unrefined, moist sea salt that's harvested from the Brittany region of France's Atlantic coast.

It's considered a gourmet salt and has a price tag to match, but it's a treat, so consider having it on hand for special-occasion cooking.

Into a second saute pan, he added a handful of turnip leaves to the browning bulbs (pic below) along with another pinch of kosher salt, plus a few shreds of grated lemon rind.

He squeezed the juice from half a lemon over both the pans of sauteing veggies because, just as I've mentioned many times in posts on Market to Mouth, lemon zest and or lemon juice enhances the natural flavor of fresh produce.

The zing factor of lemon also cuts through oil and fat, which will dominate a dish without the addition of citrus or the tart kick of a splash of vinegar.

Pulling the lamb leg steaks from the oven, Eric let them sit for about 10 minutes. This allows for the juices, which have settled during cooking in the rarest area, to radiate throughout the steaks.

Before platting the lamb, he spooned some lamb au jus, a lamb stock reduction, to which he'd added mustard, onto the plate. The thinly sliced lamb went over the sauce, and then Eric loosely scattered the browned turnips and potatoes and the greens around the meat, garnishing the dish with spindly, raw pea greens and white pea flowers.

To add piquancy, he topped the lot with additional shreds of lemon rind, which would register on the palate as a sharp, fresh bite.

When I asked whether he might swap out the lemon for orange zest and or juice, Eric responded that orange is a more distinct flavor and he therefore uses it with warmer, pungent spices.

He had me taste another au jus on the stove, one that was infused with cardamom pods, proposing that this was a sauce more suited to the addition of orange due to its pungent, aromatic quality -- I agreed.

As you can see in the pic at the top, the "scatter" presentation technique showcases the beauty of the individual vegetables --I especially love the effect of the raw pea greens framing the plate.

Eric's presentation style is a trick I'll employ; after all, why wouldn't you want to show off farm-fresh, simply prepared vegetables in such a tantalizing, au naturel fashion.

Oh, and the lamb steaks, they were incredibly tender!

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