Christmas is round the corner and I thought I would share with you this festive stuffed breast of lamb that my mother used to cook for xmas eve when it was only us around the table. I much preferred it to the turkey she roasted when my grandmother, aunt and uncles joined us. She used the same stuffing for both, a highly seasoned mixture of rice, meat and nuts and she occasionally varied on the breast by using a neck or a shoulder. Both neck and shoulder have more meat on them but the breast (a large, triangular piece of flat meat that lines the ribs) is delicious even if a little too fatty. Anyhow, there are two ways of stuffing it: one is by folding it in half over the stuffing and the other is by creating a pocket between the skin and the rib meat and filling it with the stuffing. In both cases you sew the edges to encase the stuffing.
Here is what the boned breast looks like before it is stuffed.
My mother toasts the nuts for the stuffing (both pine nuts and blanched almond halves) by sautéeing them in butter but I toast them in a hot oven. It is a lot less trouble and they colour just as evenly.
And here she is stirring the nuts and rice with the cooked minced meat. The rice needs to cook ‘al dente’ as it will go on cooking inside the meat.
We decided to fill the breast by creating a pocket between the skin and the meat. You need to be careful when cutting the skin away from the meat so as not to pierce through the other side although it is not a disaster if you do as you can sew the cut side. When you spread the filling inside the breast, make sure you do it evenly so that you don’t have empty patches!
Now comes the fiddly part which I like to call edible haute couture — the Lebanese seem to be very fond of this technique. Choose a large needle and thread it with strong cotton and once you have aligned the edges over the filling, sew them shut using a thimble like my mother to push the needle into the meat. This will make your life easier!
Once you have finished your haute couture handiwork, place the filled breast in a large pan — here it fits snuggly in an oval casserole. You can serve it simply poached but it will look a little sad. I like to roast it after it has cooked to crisp up the skin and give it a nice golden colour as you can see in the top picture although I should have let it roast longer. I may just do it again this xmas and if I do, I will make sure I will let the skin crisp up more!
Stuffed Breast of Lamb
100 g pine nuts
100 g blanched almond halves
300 g minced lamb
1 teaspoon 7-spice mixture (or allspice)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
400 g calasparra rice, rinsed under cold water and drained
1 side of a breast of lamb (ask your butcher to slice off the rib bones and to make the opening between the skin and the rib meat)
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 medium onion spiked with 8 cloves
a liitle sunflower oil
Preheat your oven to 200 º C. spread the pine nuts and almond halves on a non-stick baking sheet and roast in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, or until golden brown.
Put the mince in a non-stick pan large enough to cook the rice and sauté over medium heat until it has lost all traces of pink. Add the spices and salt to taste, then add the nuts (reserve a little for garnish) and the rice. Mix well, then add 650 ml water and more salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool slightly.
Spread the stuffing inside the pocket. You want to use about one third of the rice and serve the rest on the side, having moistened it with a little of the cooking broth of the stuffed breast to finish cooking it and heating it up. Spread the rice evenly in the pocket, align the edges of the breast and sew the opening shut.
Pour a little sunflower oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Delicately transfer the stuffed breast to the pan and brown on both sides. Then, add 1 1/2 litre water, together with the cinnamon stick, bay leaf and the onion with cloves. Bring to a boil. Skim the surface clean then cover the pan and boil gently for about an hour and a half. Remove the breast from the pan and at this stage you can serve it as it is, or if you want it to have a more golden colour, you can transfer it onto a baking dish and bake it in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes, or until golden. During that time, add a little broth from the breast to the remaining rice, and cook over a low heat until the rice is completely done and very hot.
Let rest for 5 minutes then slice the breast into thick slices, being careful not to break up the rice. Serve with more rice on the side
@Anissa Helou — first published in the Guardian
Tagged : alternative christmas, dole' mehshi, edible haute couture, hashweh, lebanese christmas, lebanese cuisine, meat & rice & nuts stuffing, stuffed breast, stuffed meats, stuffed neck of lamb, stuffed shoulder of lamb 4