Every single cook in France makes a version of this seven hour lamb, the famous Gigot de Sept Heures. You put it in the oven and try to forget about it for the next seven hours, except that the haunting aromas keep you checking your watch to see how long until dinner time. This is a dish for the busiest of days, since it tastes like you fussed over it all day long, but instead, you were probably off getting a haircut, running errands all over town, and having lunch with a girlfriend while it cooked peacefully by itself. And while every cook may have her own version, I swear, mine is the best. Really, it is! —Abra Bennett
Test Kitchen Notes
Abra Bennett's All Day Lamb was a revelation. I've made lots of lamb -- it's hands down my favorite meat -- and have always turned to red wine, rosemary, garlic, all the standards for most of my lamb dishes. The addition of the sweet wine (I used half a bottle of Alsatian Riesling left over from a dinner and a split of Riesling Ice Wine from Canada, per The Dog's Breakfast's suggestion) infused the meat, the sauce and the carrots and shallots with a fantastic "what's that?" flavor. The house, as promised, smelled divine. Served this to a hungry group, driven nearly mad with the smells from the kitchen, with mashed potatoes, the delectable sauce, and a nice Rhone. No photos -- the guests had served themselves before I could even turn the camera on. - MrsWheelbarrow —The Editors
leg of lamb, 3-4 lbs, deboned and tied (save the bones!)
bottle off-dry or late harvest white wine*
large square pork skin (optional)**
bulbs very fresh garlic, cloves separated and peeled
bouquet garni of parsley, thyme, and bay leaf tied together
medium carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
large shallots, peeled and left whole (more if they’ll fit in your casserole dish)
Have the butcher remove the bones from the lamb and tie it for you, if at all possible. Rub the lamb generously with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and set it aside to come to room temperature, about 1 hour. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet and brown the meat very well on all sides. Do this slowly, it will probably take 15 minutes to get it well browned. If you have room in the pan, brown the bones as well as you can. If they don’t fit, brown them separately after you remove the lamb. Stick the cloves into 4 of the shallots.
Preheat the oven to 325°. Line the bottom of a very large casserole with the pork skin, fat side down, if using, or oil it well.
Put the meat, shallots, garlic, carrots, the browned bones, and the bouquet garni into the casserole. The shallots are especially delicious, so stuff in as many as you can. Pour the bottle of wine over all and cover the casserole tightly. Traditionally you’d seal the lid to the dish with a dough made of flour and water. I don’t have a huge lidded casserole, and most people don’t either these days, so I seal my casserole very tightly with heavy aluminum foil. You want to prevent any evaporation in the early stages of cooking.
Place the casserole in the oven for 3-4 hours. After that time has passed, reduce the oven temperature to 275° and cook for another 3-4 hours. This dish is very flexible, so the time is elastic. If you need to remove the casserole from the oven for an hour to bake something delicious for dessert, just let the meat rest undisturbed on the counter. If you need to start it the night before, let it rest in the fridge overnight, and finish it the day you want to serve it, do that.
For the final hour of cooking you want to have the dish uncovered. With a cup or ladle, scoop out as much of the sauce as you can, probably about 3 cups worth. Let the meat and vegetables continue to cook in the oven until well-bronzed. Let the sauce rest for half an hour, remove whatever fat has risen to the top, then boil the sauce gently for half an hour to reduce it to a smooth, pourable consistency.
When you’re ready to serve the main course, remove the bones and the bouquet garni from the dish, set the whole casserole directly on the table, and serve to your delighted guests with mashed potatoes whipped with crème fraîche and lots of butter, and a pitcher of the reduced sauce on the side. You will be able to eat this with a spoon, should you be so inclined. It’s that tender.
*Use something that’s not too sweet, not too expensive, but definitely not dry, and definitely white. You might try the Hogue Late Harvest Riesling, for example. Drink a red with the finished dish, but cook with a white. Trust me.
**In France this is called couenne, and is easy to find. It keeps the meat from sticking to the pot, and also adds an elusive richness to the sauce. You may be able to get pork skin at a Chinese grocery or other ethnic market. If you can’t get pork skin, just oil the bottom of your dish.