25 February 2012

Epaule d'agneau confite

I've written before about the whole notion of confit in French cooking. A meat, fruit, or vegetable that is confit is meltingly tender as the result of long, slow cooking. Applied to meat, the first thing that comes to mind is duck. To vegetables, it's onions or garlic. And to fruit, well... confiture, which is a related word and means "preserves" or jam.

This post is about a confit of a specific meat — shoulder (épaule) of lamb (d'agneau). The idea came from Christmastime. Our friends Jean and Nick of the blog A Very Grand Pressigny invited us to dinner at their house. They live in England — Derbyshire, to be precise (and that's pronounced [DAR-bee-shur], which we Americans have to learn) — and have a vacation house ("holiday home") here in Touraine.

Roast the lamb shoulder on a bed of carrots,
onions, garlic, and herbs

For the dinner, Jean and Nick brought a Derbyshire lamb shoulder with them, and they slow-roasted it in a low oven for, I think, 4 or 5 hours. It was delicious, and we've been thinking about it ever since. This week, one of the French supermarket chains had a special on French lamb shoulders, and we thought of it again. Slow-roasting is how you get confit, when it comes to a cut of meat.

The lamb shoulder after four hours of roasting yesterday
before I turned it over to show the nicer side

So I'm in the middle of cooking a lamb shoulder roast this morning. I say "in the middle" because I started it yesterday afternoon, when it cooked for at least four hours. I put the dish, covered, down in the cellar overnight, and this morning I put it back in the oven at 200ºF to cook again until noon. It'll be ready — meltingly tender — by then. As they say in French, we'll be able to « couper la viande à la cuillère » — "to cut the meat with a spoon."

A close-up of the épaule d'agneau confite

You can see recipes for slow-roasted lamb shoulder — épaule d'agneau confite au four — on several blogs and web sites, of course. Here are four that I looked at and recommend: Dinner Diary, The Guardian, Jamie Oliver, and CuisineAZ.

And here's the recipe and method I came up with. You could roast cuts of pork, turkey, beef, or veal the same way.

Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb

1 lamb shoulder (4 to 5 lbs.)
1 cup white wine
24 garlic cloves
3 onions
2 carrots
4 thyme sprigs
2 rosemary branches
1 tsp. ground coriander seeds
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
olive oil
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 230ºC/450ºF.

Peel and coarsely chop the onions and carrots. Spread them in the bottom of a high-sided roasting pan along with the thyme, rosemary, and half the garlic cloves.

Rub the lamb shoulder with salt and pepper, ground coriander, and cayenne pepper, and then brush it with olive oil. Put the roast in the pan on the bed of the vegetables and herbs.

Set the pan in a hot oven. Let the lamb brown on one side, and then turn it over and let the other side brown. Turn the heat down to 150ºC/250ºF and pour in the white wine. Let the lamb cook uncovered for two to three hours. Add water to keep the bottom of the pan moist.

Then put the rest of the garlic cloves into the pan and cover it. Let it cook for another three or four hours, covered, at 120ºC/200ºF. When the lamb is done, you will be so tender that you'll be able to "cut it with a spoon."

Remove the bones and shred the meat to serve it. Strain the cooking juices, degrease them at least partially, and serve them with the meat and whatever vegetables you decide to have with it.


  1. I'm always looking out for specials on lamb here in France as it's eye-wateringly expensive most of the time.

    When lamb shoulders do materialise at an affordable price, I've been slow-roasting them using a variant of the Jamie Oliver method.

    Do you "slash" the surface of the shoulder as in the photos? I'm just wondering if it makes a big difference. I wedge some of the garlic cloves in those.

  2. Mike, I do slash the layer of fat and/or skin on the lamb, just as I do with duck breast filets. It supposedly lets the cooking juices soak into the meat when you baste it and keeps the fat or skin from retracting and causing the meat to curl.

  3. Sounds and looks yummy, Ken. Coincidentaly, Pauline did a lamb stew last night with some of our dried veg and fresh onions and mushrooms. Slow cooked for about two hours. The meat was mainly rib and neck cuts from Simply Market in Ligueil... I was expecting her "Delhi Lamb and Potatoes" [one of my favourites] but this was just as tasty!
    When meat is "eye-wateringly" expensive... it seems to taste nicer... or is it because you eat it so rarely?

  4. The lamb shoulder I'm getting ready to eat for lunch is French-raised lamb (if I can believe the publicity) and was 7.99 euros/kilogramme. That's a decent price. I'd rather have juicy meat than juicy eyes!


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