Braised Lamb with Jewel Vegetables and Celeriac & Russet Puree

08 February 2012

(Navarin d'Agneau)

Jim Light, Executive Chef, Viking Cooking School, SLC, Utah

Serves 6

Active time: 1.5 hr

Start to finish: 2.5 hr

If you wish to serve something different this season rather than roasting the usual turkey or beef rib for your holiday meal then try braising some lovely local lamb.


Braising is a moist-heat cooking method that everyone should have in their repertoire because it produces truly mouth-popping results. The technique is really quite simple and meat comes out of the pot succulent and flavorful. Less expensive cuts are used so you can save money also.

Navarin d'Agneau is a classic French braise, a stew really, that traditionally heralds the arrival of spring, using spring vegetables and lamb, although the French often use mutton. I believe braised dishes are best in the late autumn and early winter months because of their hearty, warming qualities. Along the Wasatch, the transition from fall to winter can be quite chilly and this dish offers that winter heartiness so important to holiday meals.

Be sure to use the well-exercised lamb shoulder. This cut becomes particularly succulent and delicious when braised. With longer cooking times, it can be used whole or boned and tied. It cooks more quickly cut into pieces, as we do here. If you like, the left-over bones can be used to make lamb stock for use in the recipe.

If you wish to plan ahead, almost all of the ingredients in this dish can be found at your local farmer's market. The herbs can be purchased fresh and dried, garlic and onions can be stored in a cool dark place for a good period of time, the lamb and peas can be frozen until needed, stock can be made from the lamb bones and frozen. The other root vegetables will keep for about one month or more inside a zip top bag within your refrigerator crisper drawer.

Boiling the vegetables individually instead of braising them along with the meat produces an especially fresh and colorful holiday dish.

  • 3 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 4 fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 4 fresh parsley sprigs
  • 2 Turkish bay leaves
  • 6 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 medium garlic clove, smashed
  • 3 pounds boneless local lamb shoulder or 1-2 inch shoulder chops, trimmed of excess fat and bone (use 1/2 pound net per person)
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, small dice
  • 5 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (to promote browning of sauce)
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 2 1/2 cups lamb, beef, or chicken stock or broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 18 pearl onions (frozen are OK)
  • 1/2 pound turnips, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
  • 1/2 pound carrots, peeled, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
  • 1/2 pound rutabaga, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
  • 1/2 pound golden, candy stripe, or red beets, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
  • 1/2 pound garden peas, shelled (frozen are OK)
  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, minced
  • Cheesecloth

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Wrap herb sprigs, bay leaves, peppercorns, and garlic in a square of cheesecloth. Use a clean piece of cotton cloth if cheesecloth is unavailable. Bring up the sides and tie with cotton string into a bundle to make a bouquet garni. It should look like a big tea bag. Be sure not to use colored or synthetic string or it may discolor your sauce or it may melt. Your butcher will likely give you a yard or two of string.

Pat lamb dry, then cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces and season lightly with salt and pepper. The pieces need to be dry to brown properly. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 6-7-quart wide enameled Dutch oven or heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown the lamb in 3 batches. Turn the pieces once, about 4 minutes per batch, transferring with tongs to a bowl. The idea is to brown the meat without creating steam so the lamb pieces need spacing.

Don't worry if you do not own an enameled Dutch oven as they can be expensive. Just brown the lamb in a large heavy sauté pan then braise it in an over-proof baking dish, like your lasagna dish. Don't forget to deglaze the fond in your sauté pan, adding the onions and liquid to the baking dish as noted below.

Add the last tablespoon oil to pot and sauté the diced onion over medium-high heat, stirring, about 3 minutes. Then add the sugar and garlic and reduce the heat to medium. Continue stirring for another 4 minutes until the onions are golden. The sugar will caramelize slightly and give a nice mahogany color to the sauce.

Add wine and stock and deglaze pot by boiling, scraping up brown bits, 1 minute. The brown bits, called "fond", are important as they create a flavorful sauce as the dish cooks. Fond is a French term meaning "foundation". Return lamb to pot (or baking dish) along with any juices that have accumulated in bowl and add bouquet garni. Stir in salt and pepper and bring to a simmer.

Braise the lamb, covered (tightly with tin foil if using baking dish), on middle rack of oven until tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

While lamb is braising, cook pearl onions in a 5- to 6-quart pot of boiling, salted water until tender, about 10 minutes, then transfer with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice water (reserve cooking water). This is called "shocking" and immediately stops the cooking and sets the bright color producing the translucent "jewel" effect in the root vegetables. Remove onions and peel. If using frozen onions, refresh them in the boiling water for 1 minute before shocking.

Boil turnip, carrot, rutabaga, and beet cubes separately in reserved cooking water until just tender, about 6 minutes for the turnips, 10 minutes for the carrots, 10 minutes for the rutabagas, 15 minutes for the beets, and 1 1/2 minutes for the peas. Transfer vegetables as cooked with a slotted spoon to ice water and, when all are cooked, drain vegetables in a colander.

Make a beurre manié by stirring together butter and flour in a small bowl to form a paste. This is the thickening agent for the sauce. Bring lamb stew to a simmer on stovetop and stir in enough beurre manié, bit by bit, to thicken to desired consistency, then simmer about 2 minutes (baking dish users need to thicken sauce in the sauté pan). Add vegetables and simmer, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve in a large, flat soup bowl or lipped plate with a serving of Celeriac Russet Puree (recipe follows) in the center. Place pieces of lamb around the puree and scatter the vegetable "jewels" around the dish. Spoon some sauce on top dust with minced parsley.

Advance planning:

Lamb can be braised 2 days ahead and cooled, uncovered, then chilled, covered. Reheat before adding beurre manié and vegetables.

Vegetables can be cooked 1 day ahead and refrigerated in a zip-top bag.

Celeriac and Russet Puree

Serves 6

  • 1 pound celeriac, sometimes called celery root, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch dice
  • 3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 3 quarts cold water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place the celeriac and potato pieces in a large, pot and cover with cold water. Add salt and bring to a simmer, lightly covered, over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until potatoes and celeriac are tender, about 20-25 minutes. Check for doneness by sliding the blunt end of a narrow bamboo skewer into a potato piece to see if it is still hard inside. This technique can be used to check doneness of any root vegetable.

Drain vegetables in a colander and return to pot. Set on medium heat and shake pot a bit until steam no longer rises so as to evaporate the water.

In a large bowl, puree vegetables with a ricer, food mill, or mash them with a potato masher. A ricer is best because it produces the fluffiest texture.

Heat milk in the pot and add butter. Pour the hot milk into the potato mixture and whip with a fork until fluffy. If the potatoes seem too thick, add more warm milk.

Season to taste with salt and fresh ground black pepper.