Imagine my surprise when I opened the spare fridge and found several half opened bottles of wine. I’ve heard it said that the best way to store an opened bottle of wine is to finish it. We live by that rule but I guess turning thirty has brought us more restraint. A few after work drinks with friends and a couple lazy nights on the couch meant that we’d accumulated some not-quite-good-enough-to-drink but not-quite-bad-enough-to-throw-away bits of wine that just seemed destined to end up in some slow cooked lamb. I know, I know that people say if you wouldn’t drink it you shouldn’t cook with it but sometimes it’s just a waste to throw out good-ish wine.
Let’s say there’s a point where the wine is good enough to drink but you wouldn’t choose to drink that particular bottle. Faced with three half opened $20 bottles, I decided that it would be mostly okay to cook with. And it was more than okay. I’m sure there are purists amongst you shuddering at the thought, but the flavour of lamb is strong enough that the red lends an earthiness but doesn’t impart any one particular flavour. Obviously, if the wine is off, over-oxidised or been sitting open on the counter for a week – then it’s not going to be good. Taste it before cooking with it.
I used to cook roast legs of lamb until they were just medium, pink and juicy in the middle but this method of slow cooked lamb is just so much easier. Set and forget; five, six or even seven hours can’t overcook it sort of easy. At five hours, the lamb is still slightly pink in the centre. It’s also a lot more forgiving with frozen cuts – one time, to my dismay I found that the lamb I’d defrosted in the fridge overnight was still frozen in the middle but I was running late so I browned it, chucked in in the oven and hoped for the best. I shouldn’t have worried as the long slow cook takes care of that.
I popped some gratin potatoes in the bottom oven for the last hour, took the lamb out and bumped up the heat to 180C for another 20 minutes to brown the potatoes. Serve with a fresh green or grated salad to cut through the richness and it’s a pretty chilled dinner party.
Leftover lamb freezes well too – just reheat with some tinned tomatoes and toss with freshly cooked pasta and a sprinkle of parsley.
- 2.5kg bone out lamb leg, shoulder, or rolled roast (remove netting)
- 1 head of garlic, unpeeled and cut across the middle
- 2 large onions, roughly chopped
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 500ml wine - red or white or substitute stock
- Preheat your oven to 130C/270F
- Heat a heavy bottomed pan or roasting tray over high heat, then brown the lamb on all sides. There is usually enough residual fat on the outside of the lamb to not have to add oil to the pan, but if your lamb is looking particularly lean then feel free to add a splash of vegetable oil before browning.
- Add the whole head of garlic, then tuck the onions and rosemary around the side. Pour in the wine. Cover the pot with a lid or double layer of aluminium foil and place in the oven for 5 hours. Check back halfway to see if the liquid needs topping up.
- Test the lamb by pressing on it with a wooden spoon, if it breaks up easily, it's done. Remove the pot from the oven, discard garlic skin and rosemary stems. Scoop out excess oil - lamb can be quite fatty and often there will be a significant layer of oil on the top.
- If there is a lot of liquid remaining, place the pot over medium heat and cook uncovered to allow some of the liquid to evaporate. Stir through so the gravy covers the lamb and serve.