Monday, September 5, 2011

Spiced Lamb with Plums: The artistic science of culinary experimentation.

Some claim that cooking is an art, others that it's an exact science.  I believe that it's both - a scientific art, an artistic science.  A kitchen is a paint-splattered laboratory of gastronomy, where exact measurements work in tandem with bold brushstrokes of creative combinations.

Fancy words aside, what I'm saying is that you should be willing to experiment in the kitchen.  Responsibly, of course.  Deep-fried black licorice with a peanut-anchovy dipping sauce is certainly an experiment, but not one any sane person should attempt (or is likely to attempt more than once).
There are certain things in cooking that serve to make a memorable dish: texture and flavor are at the forefront of those.  Crunchy and salty on the outside, chewy and sweet on the inside?  Awesome.  That just WORKS.  Sweet and spicy, nutty and salty, lean and rich - all those combinations work, so long as the ingredients used to achieve them are good.

Which brings me to Spiced Lamb with Plums, my most recent culinary concoction, inspired by Middle-Eastern, Indian, and Southern (Southern United States, that is) cuisines.
The Recipe:

Spiced Lamb with Plums

- 1 lb of boneless lamb stew meat
- 3/4 lb of bone-in stew meat
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1-3 small jalapeño peppers (depending on how spicy you like your food), sliced into rings
- 2 dried red chili peppers
- 5 plums, pitted and sliced (the sweeter the plums, the better)
- butter
- 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
- coarse salt and pepper

In a large bowl, combine all of the lamb and liberally sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper.  Mix by hand to make sure the meat is evenly seasoned.  Cover and refrigerate for about 1-2 hours.
1-2 hours later:
Separate out the boneless and the bone-in meat.  If you like, you can cut some of the meat off the bony pieces (the bone-in lamb will be used for making lamb stock, so doesn't need too much meat).
In a medium heavy skillet (French skillet works great), melt 1.5 tablespoons of butter over high heat.  Lightly brown the boneless lamb, then remove from the skillet and set aside.  Add the bone-in lamb to the skillet and let brown.  Add 1 dried chili pepper and saute for about 30 seconds, then add 3/4 cup of water.
Cover, reduce heat to very low, and let simmer for 20-30 minutes.

In a large non-stick skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat.  Add the olive oil.  Saute the onions until soft and starting to turn golden-brown, about 5 minutes.  Add jalapeños and chili pepper, and saute for 2-3 minutes, until jalapeños soften.  Add the boneless lamb that was set aside earlier.  Saute for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the plums and saute for another 5 minutes. Add the lamb stock.

Reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer for 20-25 minutes.

Serve with basmati rice.

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