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Infusing a hearty stew with the fresh flavors of Spring

March has been all over the place here in the Pacific Northwest... sunshine, showers, sun-showers, wind, humidity, short-sleeve days and bone-chillers. What to cook? Dainty aspargus dishes are a few weeks away and a winter stew or braise seems as appropriate as anything. Of course, French cooks have been serving up an answer for centuries: combine the warming efficacy of a stew, the prefumed unctuousness of spring lamb, and a generous helping of the young alliums, legumes, and root veggies that are beginning to peek out of the ground. Enter Navarin Printaniere, or Spring Lamb Stew.

There's no real trick to making a satisfying stew, but I would like to say a word about browning: take your time with it. No matter what a reecipe says, if you are browning the kind of tough and flavorful cuts that shine in stews and braises, then there is no need to rush the browning process. Just keep the heat down around medium and don't turn your meat until it has developed a nice, thick crust. Of course, some bone-in cuts (like shank) are hard to deal with since they do not always want to lie flat in the pan. Never mind that. Just be patient and do the best you can. Like making roux, there's a meditative quality to browning. For those too antsy for meditation, you can safely attend to prepping other things in between turns of the meat, especially if you have the heat set to medium. The added bonus of taking your time: all of the browned bits that inevitably get stuck in the pan remain unscorched and add a tremendous amount of flavor to the broth.

Another thing about browning: the bigger the chunks and the less crowded they are in the pan, the easier it is to brown stew meat and avoid steaming it. When stew meat is cut into 1-inch cubes, there is a lot more surface area that starts to weep liquid. Combine this with a crowded pan, and the result is most likely gonig to be a layer of liquid in the pan that needs to be evaporated before any real browning can take place. Again, patience is helpful: keep you batches small.

Aside from this general advice, I must admit that I tinkered with this recipe to get a better result after testing our Navarin Printaniere recipe, first added to Joy in 1963 by my grandmother Marion. In addition to changing the proportion of vegetables to lamb, this version includes white wine, a different procedure for thickening the broth, and (hopefully) clearer instructions. Remember, the green beans and peas ought to be just barely cooked. You can do this separately or with by submerging them in the the stew with a small colander. If you want to refrigerate the leftovers and reheat for another dinner, cook another batch of green beans and peas.

Perhaps most importantly, no lamb dish should go unaccompanied. A fresh baguette and a nice bottle of wine are perfect for sharing around the table. Of course, we are partial to our Rombauer cousins' 2011 Zinfandel, though a Cabernet or Merlot would make for fine company as well.

Other articles you might enjoy: Grilled, Marinated Lamb Chops With Risi e Bisi, Braised Lamb Shanks, Pan-Roasted Venison Loin Wrapped In Ramps and Bacon

Spring Lamb Stew (Navarin Printanière)
about 8 servings

Shoulder, shank, breast... any stewing cut will work here. Shoulder chops are especially convenient for browning as they only require one flip. Just remember, the fattier the cut, the more important it is to let the stew chill overnight in the refrigerator to efficiently remove the fat.

Trim the fat from:
     3 pounds lamb stew meat (shoulder, neck, breast, or shank)
If the lamb is boneless, cut into large chunks. Liberally season with:
     Freshly ground black pepper

Add to a large heavy skillet over medium heat:
     2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Add the meat, in batches, and patiently brown on all sides. Remove the meat as it browns to a Dutch oven. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat and brown in the pan until golden:
     12 small shallots, cipollini, spring, or pearl onions, peeled with ends trimmed
     8 cloves garlic, peeled
     1 large leek, cleaned and split in half

Remove these to the Dutch oven, drain the fat, and add to the pan over low heat:
     2 tablespoon butter
Once melted, slowly whisk in:
     2 tablespoons flour
Lightly cook the roux, stirring frequently until it begins to color, about five minutes. Increase the heat to high and add:
     2 cups white wine
Bring to a boil, stirring to release any browned bits and mix in the roux. Continue to simmer until the wine has been reduce by about half. Pour over the meat, along with:
     3 cups lamb stock, beef stock, or water
     2 tablespoons tomato paste

     1 bay leaf
Simmer, covered, for about 1 1/2 hours. For tougher cuts like neck and breast, be sure the lamb is fork-tender. Remove any bones from the lamb and chill overnight, if possible. Skim off the fat from the cooking liquid. Return to the stovetop and bring to a simmer, adding:
    1/2 pound small new potatoes, whole or cut in half
     6 young carrots, peeled
     1 turnip, peeled and cut into chunks
     2 sprigs of thyme and parsley
Simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Serve in bowls and garnish each one with:
    1/4 cup cooked fresh or frozen peas
     6 french green beans (haricots verts), blanched and thinly sliced
     Finely chopped parsley and onion or garlic greens


pat swaney's picture

If I want to use lamb shoulder chops, with bones in which I would remove after simmering, how many pounds should I start with? (it seems from the recipe that you mean 3 lbs of actual meat) Thank you!
john's picture

Sorry for the delayed reply Pat... Bone-in chops are very much preferred! I use them all the time for dishes like this because they are super easy to brown and the bones add a nice meaty depth to the braising liquid. 3 pounds should be just fine, but 4 pounds will not hurt anything, especially if you have a roomy pot/dutch oven. Dishes like this really stretch the meat you use and the proportions of vegetables and braising liquid to meat are --to my mind-- pretty flexible, especially since you can reduce the liquid after the meat has finished braising.

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