I love spring. It’s the tentative, yet warm, wet kiss of seasons. Who doesn’t want the weather to warm, the sprouting bulbs to wend their way through the earth to find sunlight, and bare trees lining streets to explode into canopies of green? Yet, for me spring comes with one long melancholy sigh as I realize I will be seeing much less of my slow cooker over the next several months and much less of the comforting fall-apart meat I love that is the result of the low-slow process the utilitarian cooker gives us. While I was browsing around for good spring recipes, I came across one for a lamb stew that starting me thinking about a classic French “navarin printanier” we made in culinary school. Navarin means lamb or mutton stew and when vegetables are added, particularly blushing new spring vegetables like asparagus, baby turnips and English peas, that’s when the “printanier” or spring part comes in.
With a little tweaking of the recipe normally done in the oven or stovetop, and the help of the smart new Cuisinart 6-quart Multi-Cooker I was given by Cuisinart recently to play with, I am happy to report a wonderful spring excuse for slow-cooking!
The absolute stunning thing about this particular cooker, and why I loved working with it, is that it has a “browning” setting. It actually browns and sears, right in the cooker pot, right inside the cooker.
Browning meat for a stew, even a slow cooker stew, is a flavor-building technique that should not be skipped, even though, for convenience sake, a lot of slow cooker recipes do skip it. With this Cusinart cooker, you don’t have to mess up an extra pot, or your stove with the browning process…and all the flavor stays right in the pot you’ll be slow cooking in.
The browning function allows you to set the temperature as high as 400 degrees F which is hot enough to get a nice sear on the meat. It also allows you to bring things to a boil, as in reducing the sauce at the end of the cooking time, without dirtying yet another pot!
Wouldn’t you love to have one of these lovely cookers right now? Even though it’s spring? Just to make this lovely slow-cooked spring lamb? Well, as a memorable way to introduce myself to the readers of the great site KosherEye, and because Cuisinart was generous enough to give me a brand-new, in-the-box one of these to give-away, one lucky reader will give this beauty a home. To enter, go to my post on KosherEye, and leave a comment, answering one of two questions in the comments area below the post: what’s your favorite thing to make in a slow cooker? Or how do you use your slow cooker in the spring or summer?
Now, a final word on this lamb stew. It’s has the depth of a classic boeuf bourguignon, but on day-light savings time! It’s perfect for the still cool nights we are having but gives a wonderful hint of all the green freshness to come. The herby-fresh pistou (fancy-French for pesto) with mint and parsley and basil along with the new potatoes, boiled, lightly smashed and pan-fried to a crispy, creamy perfection make this a meal fit for a spring celebration!
Spring Lamb Stew
For the stew:
4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) vegetable spread or extra-virgin olive oil.
1 boneless leg of lamb, about 3 1⁄2 lb., cut into 2-inch pieces/cubes
1 yellow onion, minced
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
2 cups dry white wine
3 cups chicken or beef stock, reduced to ½ cup
3 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
4 garlic cloves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1⁄2 lb. baby carrots, peeled
2 medium turnips, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cube
1⁄2 lb. shallots, peeled
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
24 asparagus tips, each 3 inches long
For the pistou:
½ cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves (20-25 leaves)
1 cup tightly packed fresh parsley leaves
½ cup tightly packed mint leaves
1 large shallot, peeled and finely diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 whole plum tomatoes, grated, or may substitute 2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 ¼ teaspoons kosher or other coarse salt (half as much if using fine table salt)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the potatoes:
16-20 small red potatoes (2-inches in diameter
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
FOR THE STEW: STOVETOP METHOD:
In a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, melt the butter. Working in batches, brown the lamb on all sides, about 3 minutes per side, removing each batch from the pan as you go. When all the meat is browned, hold aside. Reduce heat and add the onion to the same pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the onion and stir until the flour browns, about 30 seconds. Add the wine, and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze, about 30 seconds, picking up all the “brown bits” on the bottom of the pan. Add the stock, parsley, thyme and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Return the meat to the pan. Reduce the heat to low and gently simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. (Gentle simmering will result in more tender meat.)
Add the garlic, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover and gently simmer for an additional 45 minutes. Add the carrots, turnips and shallots, cover and simmer until the meat is fork-tender, about 40 minutes more. Add the peas and asparagus and cook for 6 to 8 minutes more. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat and vegetables to a warmed serving dish; keep warm.
Increase the heat to high, bring the liquid to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, and pour over the meat and vegetables. Serve immediately.
CUISINART SLOW-COOKER METHOD
Set the Cuisinart cooker for “brown” at a temperature of 400 degrees F. Allow the pan/insert to come to temperature, about 5 minutes. Add the oil/vegetable spread and allow it to melt/heat. Working in batches, brown the lamb on all sides, about 3 minutes per side, removing each batch from the pan to a bowl as you go. When all the meat is browned, hold aside. Add the onion to the same pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the onion and stir until the flour browns, about 3-5 minutes. Add the wine, and scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze, about 30 seconds, picking up all the “brown bits” on the bottom of the pan. Add the stock, parsley, thyme and bay leaf and bring to simmer. Return the meat to the pan. Gently simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
Add the garlic, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover and change setting to slow cook on HIGH for an additional 3 hours. Add the carrots, turnips and shallots, and continue to cook for 2 hours or until the vegetables are tender. Add the peas and asparagus and cook for 15 minutes more. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat and vegetables to a warmed serving dish; keep warm.
Change setting to BROWN at 400 degrees F and bring the liquid to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, and pour over the meat and vegetables. Serve immediately.
FOR THE PISTOU
Pistou is traditionally pounded by hand in a large mortar, starting with grinding the garlic into the salt to make a paste, then adding the herbs a little at a time, continuing to grind until smooth. Then you add the tomato, shallot and olive oil and incorporate thoroughly. Alternately you put all the ingredients in a blender, or mini chopper to accomplish the same result, using the pulse action to easily chop and combine the ingredients. To retain the rustic, hand grounded quality of the pistou, do not over-process or turn into a puree. Pulsing the ingredients in the processor will give you control over the final texture.
FOR THE POTATOES
Wash the potatoes thoroughly, lightly scrubbing with a sponge or vegetable brush because you will be eating the skin. Place the washed potatoes in a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them by an extra two inches. Bring to a boil then turn down to a gentle boil and cook for 10-12 minutes or until they are tender, but not too soft, when pierced with a toothpick. You don’t want to test them with a fork because they may break apart. Use a toothpick, skewer or cake tester. The potato is done when the item inserted goes in easily and slides out easily.
Drain the potatoes. Take one potato at a time, place it on a flat surface and gently smash or crush it down with your palm, not enough to flatten it completely, but enough to crack the skin in several places and create an thick “disk” of a potato. Again, don’t smash it so that it will fall apart, you want it to maintain it’s integrity so you can pick it up whole. Repeat with all the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat a cast iron, or other heavy skillet over a medium-high flame. Add 1 tablespoon of canola oil and 1 tablespoon of olive oil (or enough of both oils to cover the bottom of the pan with about ¼ inch of oil. When the oil is heated and shimmering, place the potatoes, flattened side down, in the pan. Resist the urge to move them around and let them crisp and brown sufficiently before you do, 1-2 minutes. A good sign that they’ve “seared” is that if you shake the pan, they will slide around. When they are a nice crispy brown, turn them and brown them on the other side.
Remove potatoes from pan, and place them on a plate lined with a paper towel. Season again with salt and pepper, if needed. Serve hot.