Food Alone: Judith Jones’s Nine Lives of a Leg of Lamb


from The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, p. 276-82.

Judith Jones’s memoir appealed to me first for what she has to say about her life as a food editor. The short appendix of her favorite recipes at the end of the volume added that much more pleasure. Among those favorites she shares are one she devised after her husband died, when she began to cook for herself. In her description of her life at home by herself, I recognized my life:

I turn on some music and have a glass of Campari or wine, and it is for me the best part of the day, a time for relaxation. When, at last, I sit down and light the candles, the place across from me is not empty. (181)

The presence of her husband fills the space opposite her. At my table, with all my periodicals — the TLS, the NYRB, the LRB, and the NY’er — the world of books and ideas lays open on the table just beyond my plate. So, I’m partial to any book that offers ways for those of us who live alone to eat affordably and eat well.

A few days ago, I was down to my last big haunch of lamb from the Fields’ ranch. In a month or so, half of a butchered pig will have to fit into my freezer, so I decided to reduce the remaining bits of frozen lamb in one big jump. Judith showed me a way to make a leg of lamb without wasting any and without having to hold a dinner party (not that I’m averse to having friends to dinner, but I’m too busy this month). She provides nine recipes calibrated for one serving that can be made with one leg of lamb.

  • Cold Lamb with Sauce Gribiche
  • Evan’s Lamb Curry
  • Shepherd’s Pie
  • Casserole of Lamb, Mushrooms, and Bulgur or Barley
  • Eggplant or Green Peppers Stuffed with Lamb, Red Pepper, and Rice
  • Lamb Hash
  • Lamb Croquettes
  • Minced Lamb on Toast
  • Lamb Soup with Leeks and Flageolets

I managed to get the first, second, fourth, fifth and ninth out of my leg of lamb, which I offer here:

First, the roast…

One leg of lamb (bone-in)

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

Olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

I brought the lamb to room temperature for an hour on the kitchen counter — out of reach of my dogs. About 15 mins before I was ready to cook, I preheated the oven to 400. While the oven heated, I slit holes around the leg, into which I pushed garlic slivers. Then, I rubbed olive oil on the leg and sprinkled salt and pepper over it. The leg went on a roasting rack over a drip pan into the oven for an hour. Every 20 mins, I turned the leg. I wanted the meat to be rare, so I took the leg out at 1 hour and about 20 mins, maybe a touch less. I let it sit on the counter for nearly 20 mins while I made the sauce Gribiche.

Cold Lamb with Sauce Gribiche

1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp wine vinegar

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp capers

2 cornichons, chopped in small pieces

1 hard-boiled egg, chopped in small pieces

Freshly ground pepper

1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

Mix all the ingredients together. If you’re not using the sauce right away, hold back on the parsley, and mix that in at the last. This is a sauce you have to taste so you can adjust the seasonings to get the balance right. Adjust according to what your palate tells you.

You can cut the meat in strips and marinate them in the sauce for several hours, or you can cut slices and serve the sauce over them. Use as much of it as suits your fancy.

Me, again…

I love this sauce. I have nothing to add.

And then, on the second day, I made this version of Judith’s “Evan’s Lamb Curry”…

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1/2 large onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1/2 green pepper, seeded, ribs removed, and chopped

1 cup lamb cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces (either raw or cooked rare)

1/4 tsp fennel seeds

1 1/2 tsps good madras curry powder, or more to taste

1/2 tsp turmeric


1/2 tart green apples, peeled, cored, and cut in eighths

2 tsp unsweetened shredded coconut

1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Heat the oil in a large skillet, add the onions, garlic, and green peppers, and sauté gently about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the lamb pieces, then add the broth, fennel seeds, curry, turmeric, and a sprinkling of salt. Cover the skillet, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes. Add the apples, coconut, and lemon juice, and cook about 8 minutes, until the apples are tender. Taste, and correct seasoning; you may want more salt, and a bit more curry if you like it spicy.

My turn…

I followed her directions with two exceptions. I added half a green serrano chili, finely chopped, and I omitted the coconut.

On the third day, I made the Casserole of Lamb, Mushrooms, and Bulgur or Barley…

Judith: A simple dish that makes a complete meal with a little salad on the side. Bring 3/4 cup water to a boil, and slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup bulgur or barley. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let stand 30 minutes. Meanwhile, sauté 5 medium mushrooms ina little olive oil with 3 or 4 slivers of garlic for a few minutes, then add chunks of cooked lamb, preferably on the rare side, along with any jus or gravy from the roast. If you haven’t any left, use about 1/4 cup beef stock. Season with salt and pepper and a teaspoon of fresh rosemary leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried and crumbled. Bring just to the simmer to heat through, and when the bulgur or barley is ready, toss the two together in a warm bowl and sprinkle some parsley on top.

Me: My only objection to the directions for this satisfying wintery dish is that the barley came out a bit soggy. Otherwise, I used some of my own meat stock.

I made the Eggplant Stuffed with Lamb, Red Pepper, and Rice on the fourth night…

1 small eggplant, 6-7 inches

1 medium onion, chopped

1 or 2 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 red bell pepper, seeded, ribs removed, and chopped

1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

1/4 cup cooked rice

2/3 cup cooked lamb, cut in smallish pieces

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tsp roughly cut fresh rosemary leaves, or 1/2 tsp dried

3 Tbsp toasted pine nuts (optional)

1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs

Prick the eggplant all over, and bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, sauté the onion, garlic, and red pepper in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over low heat until soft. Add the rice, meat, salt and pepper to taste, rosemary, and optional pine nuts. When cool enough to handle, split the eggplant lengthwise, and scrape out most of the flesh, leaving the shell intact. Chop up the eggplant flesh and add it to the pan with the rest of the filling. Let everything cook together a few minutes, check seasoning, and then fill the eggplant halves with this stuffing. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top, and drizzle on remaining olive oil. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 25 minutes, until nicely browned on top.

Me, again…

As Judith goes on to say in a concluding note, there’s a lot of room for playing around with ingredients. I made do with what I had on hand, which meant leaving out the breadcrumbs. Next time, I might throw in some currants or raisins, chopped tomato. It reminds me of a dish I loved in Greece, Imam Balyadi.

My one word of warning is that I should have let the rice cook with the vegetables longer on top of the stove. The rice came out of the oven a little too firm for my taste.

Believe it or not, I was not sick of lamb by the fifth night, when I made the Lamb Soup with Leeks and Flageolets…

Judith: When you’ve finally gotten down to the bone of your leftover lamb roast, it’s time to make a soup. You’re not going to get a very meat broth from a cooked lamb bone,but it will have flavor, enough to yield one or two servings. Root vegetables are always good, and you can use rice or other grains instead of flageolets. But I like this particular combination. The night before making it, put a handful of flageolets or other beans to soak. Next day, cover your lamb bone with water, and bring to a boil. Skim, and simmer for about 30 minutes, then add a chopped onion, 1 or 2 leeks including some of the tender green, a chopped carrot, and the soaked and drained flageolets. Simmer about 1 hour, checking to see that there’s enough water to cover, until the beans are soft and the liquid is considerably reduced. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and ladle into a soup bowl. Discard the bone, but be sure to scrape off and include any bits of lamb clinging to it.

My last gasp of lamb…

Covering the lamb bone with water means the broth will be more than is needed for the beans. So, if you like  more bean than broth, throw a couple of handfuls, not just one. And skim, skim, skim. The crud that rises up is pretty scummy.

Before I began this week long project, I feared I would be sick of lamb by the second meal. Instead, her recipes involve such different spices and preparations that I didn’t mind in the least. Tonight, I’m having the soup, which I made yesterday.

Nice little book.

Tamasin Day-Lewis’s Braised Lamb Shank with Rosemary and Balsamic Vinegar

from Tamasin’s Kitchen Bible, p.169.

Tamasin Day-Lewis belongs to a generation of British cookbook writers that includes very prominently Nigel Slater. Like Nigel, Tamasin writes recipes in a breezy, offhand chatty style, although her recipes comes with a list precisely measured or weighed ingredients and Nigel’s do not. I have one other book of hers, The Art of the Tart, which I grew so fond of that I decided to pick up another of her books when I passed through London in September. She has recently published a big compendium of 1,000 recipes, All You Can Eat, but I decided to take her earlier book mainly on the ground that the new one is in hardcover and expensive and Tamasin’s Kitchen Bible (TKB, from here on out) was in paper and slightly cheaper.

TKB is oddly arranged. A list of the chapters shows that the index will be most useful, because there’s no way I can open it up to, say, the lamb section and leaf through it:

  • Easy Things
  • Simple Skills
  • Frugal Food
  • Christmas Countdown
  • Classic Recipes
  • Foolproof Favorites
  • Serious Skills

Apart from the cookbook’s organization, I like the cookbook and the attitude of its author. In particular, this lambshank recipe struck me as sensible and promising. I’ve made this recipe twice now, although I have not yet eaten the second batch. It’s flexible, pretty straightforward, and the first version was delicious.

Here’s how it appear in TKB:

2 tbsp plain flour

sea salt and black pepper

4 organic lamb shanks

2-3 tbsp olive oil, possibly an extra couple of tbsp

1 tbsp rosemary leaves, chopped

2 large onions, peeled and sliced thinly

6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

300 ml/ 10 fl oz white wine

150 ml / 5 lf oz balsamic vinegar

a bouquet of 2 strips of orange peel and a couple of bay leaves tied together with string

Put the flour and seasoning in a re-sealable platic bag. Throw in the shanks, seal the bag and give the shanks a good shake to coat them in the seasoned flour. (That way you don’t end up wearing it.) Shake off the excess flour and remove the meat.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed casserole and brown the shanks on all side over a medium heat. This should be done quickly, a couple of minutes a side until they begin to brown and crust. Scrape up any burnt bits of flour from the bottom of the pan and remove with a slotted spoon. If the pan looks like it needs more oil, add it. Then throw in the rosemary and let them fizz and hiss for a minute. This begins to tenderise them and draw out their astringent scent. Add the thyme, onions and garlic, stir and cook until softened and beginning to turn translucent. Raise the heat and add the wine and vinegar together, bubbling them furiously for a couple of minutes.

Return the shanks and their juice to the pot, lower the heat and add the bouquet tucked into the side and cover the pot with a layer of greaseproof paper and the lid. Simmer very gently for 2-2 1/2 hours, turning the shanks in the chocolate-brown liquor every so often. You may add a little more wine if it looks like the sauce is reducing too much. Serve with champ, a wonderful Irish dish of mashed potato.

My attempt went like this:

The first time I made this I was in a hurry and didn’t prepare all the ingredients before I began. Mistake. I needed to focus my attention on the heat of the oil in which the shanks browned and the minced herbs, garlic, and onion subsequently sauteed. When she calls for medium heat, heed that call. The second time, the transition from browning the meat to sauteeing the herbs without burning the latter went much smoother because I kept the flame to medium and kept my eye on the pan.

Next, the sauce. I jiggled the proportions of wine to balsamic vinegar from the first attempt to the second. The consistency of the sauce was thick, the first time I made it, thanks to the flour on the meat and the balsamic, I believe. The second time, I increased the amount of wine to 12 oz and decreased the vinegar to a little more than 2 oz. The sauce was thinner, but not as sweet as the first, which was what I hoped would happen.

I used two shanks in the first version. It took barely two hours to fall off the bone. The second time I used two shanks and a small rib-in shoulder roast and it took almost 3 hours.

One last change: in the second version I stuck it in the oven at 325 for 2 hours to braise. But I took it out and let it simmer on the stovetop for another half hour or so more.

I mashed a potato with a little butter and milk to eat with it.

What I’d do next time:

I’ll update this on Wednesday after my guests and I eat the second version.

UPDATE Wed Oct 15: To judge from my friends’ responses, the meal was a success. I braised a shoulder roast and two shanks, having adjusted the white wine-balsamic as I noted above. I think the next time I make this — and I’m sure to do it again — I’ll go back to the original proportions and give it one more try. But this makes a good autumnal and winter meal. I feel much encouraged to try other recipes in Tamasin’s book.

Food Alone: Lamb Chops and the Return of the Hibachi

Another lamb led to slaughter lies in myriad pieces in my freezer. I have another 35 lbs or so of lamb to consume over the coming autumnal months. But slow-grilling season is quickly passing. There’s no way in hell that I will keep a grill going for 4 hours in my driveway while the temperature drops around me. The only solution that came to mind was a hibachi.

To tell the truth, I can’t remember to which decade hibachis– those small cast-iron grills — belong. I’ve been racking my brain, but the only thing I can be sure of is that their popularity predated the 80s. I’d love some input here. Somewhere in my past, hibachis became the rage. When? Why have they gone out of favor?

My enthusiasm for grilling has outlasted the season. When pondering my choices, the image of hibachis came to mind. I found one readily available on for $25. I ordered it. It has arrived and tonight I put it to use. The results were very encouraging. A(n?) hibachi is very good for solitaires and couples. After tonight’s initial test, however, I see that there is a lot to learn. I grilled two lamb chops. They came out well. But let me start that story in its proper setting…

What I did:

To inaugurate the hibachi, I decided to make a dinner of two lamb chops and roasted eggplant.I have installed my new hibachi on a pizza stone set upon a wooden tray table that I can position anywhere I please on my deck.

I made a half-assed marinade of olive oil, a sprinkling of sherry vinegar, minced garlic, Malden salt, and ground pepper. I also put a big handful of wine oak-barrel wood chips in a bowl of water to soak. Wouldn’t the oak compliment the lamb?

Fortunately, my charcoal chimney just fits within the hibachi. I used hardwood charcoal to begin a fire on the coal grate while I prepared the sliced eggplant indoors to roast in my oven. The main question for me was how much charcoal would I need. I filled the chimney 2/3’s of the way up with charcoal. When the coals were bright red and shooting up flames, I slipped on my garden gloves and gingerly poured the coals evenly along the grate. Then I let them burn for a few minutes.

Just before positioning in place the two grill grates, I strewed some sodden oak chips on the coals to begin the smoke. Then I put the grates into position into the lowest slot. The amount of coal in relation to the distance of the lowest grate setting seemed right. Plenty of smoke, plenty of heat. I cooked the chops for 2 minutes per side. Only one instance of a flare-up caused me to reposition the chops.

As for timing, to cook the eggplant in the oven, after pre-heating the oven to 425, I sliced it into 1/2-inch rounds, slathered them with olive oil, pimentón, and a touch of ground cumin on a foil-lined baking sheet, and tucked them into the oven. Then I reduced the temperature to 375 and let them cook for about 20 minutes.

I put the chops on the hibachi too soon. I should have waited until the eggplant had roasted for 5 or more minutes. When I removed them from the grill, I put them in a pan under foil until the eggplant was ready. They were medium rare when I sat down to eat, but I would have preferred them just a touch pinker.

Timing apart, it was a good meal. It’s a simple, enjoyable meal to make for one or two people. The hibachi made me very optimistic. I have at least another 30 chops to go before this poor lamb has finished its course on this planet. Bring back the Hibachi!

What I Have to Think About Next Time:

Cliché though it may be, timing is everything. It’s clear to me that the hibachi is best suited for quick direct grilling. But I think, with practice, I may be able to do slightly slower grills with chicken and fish. That will require paying attention to the amount of coal. No cover and no way to easily introduce extra coals. But a higher mound of coal and inserting the grill grates in the second or third slots above may make it easier.

I think there’s a lot of potential here for slower grillings that don’t require covers. For one person, the hibachi is ideal. Disposal of coals the morning after may be a pain, but I am very happy with the first results of this experiment.