26 January 2014

“Boiled” lamb

Yesterday I did something very strange in the kitchen. I boiled — simmered, really, or poached — a boneless piece of leg of lamb. Yes, instead of roasting the lamb in the oven, I put it in a pot of boiling broth and let it cook for 40 minutes. It's not the same thing as boiled meat, though.

In France, this kind of cooking is called « à l'anglaise » — English-style. You can cook potatoes or green beans à l'anglaise, for example — boiled in a larg quantity of liquid. Since I consider myself to be English, at least ethnically, I figured it would be an appropriate way for me to cook a roast of lamb. In France, there's a similar method of cooking beef in simmering liquid that's called « bœuf à la ficelle » — "beef on a string." So why not make « agneau à la ficelle »?

 A boneless, tied lamb roast from the leg

I didn't use a whole leg of lamb, but the shank end of a leg (or gigot) that had been deboned and tied up as a roast. I read in cookbooks and on the Internet that a gigot à l'anglaise should simmer for 12 to 18 minutes per pound in broth or water. The piece of lamb I had weighed two pounds, so I figured about 30 minutes of simmering would do the job. It turned out that 40 minutes was better.

The poaching liquid was a light beef and vegetable broth in which I had cooked turnips, rutabagas, carrots, and onions.

You want the meat to be between rare (saignant) and medium (rosé), not well-done, when you slice it. That's the same with "beef on a string" or, in this case, "lamb on a string." Why is it called that? Because in theory you tie a loop of string around the meat and tie the other end to the pot handle such that the meat is suspended in the simmering liquid and never touches the burning hot bottom of the pot.

It looked like... well... boiled meat. No surprise there.

You can accomplish the same thing by putting a wire rack in of the pot that will keep the meat a centimeter or two from the bottom. That's what I did. Would I make gigot à l'anglaise again? Maybe. It was good, but certainly no better than an oven-roasted lamb roast. We ate the lamb, which was done rosé or medium, with some ratatouille (zucchini, eggplant, tomato) and steamed rice.

But it was good to eat, cooked just to medium or rosé, with the ratatouille liquid as a kind of sauce.

I'm sure this method of cooking a beef or lamb roast originated in the days before people had gas or electric ovens in their kitchen. People in France like to tell about their ancestors taking a roast or a casserole to the baker's shop in the afternoon, when the bread was all cooked, and having their dish cooked in the baker's oven, which stayed hot for hours. In villages, there was often a communal oven (called un four banal) where village residents could take their roasts, casseroles, or pies and cook them. I know all this existed, but I wonder how many people actually did their baking or roasting away from home like that.


  1. I think it probably originated earlier....
    in the days before cast iron enabled a range to be built economically...
    almost all early ranges, even when open fired, had an oven next to the source of heat.

    It also would have helped with the tougher joints of meat that poorer families could afford...
    and leave a stock on the hob for "soopz'n'stooz"!

  2. It looks delicious but I can't imagine ever boiling lamb myself. I like the caramelising effect of roasting it in the oven.
    The practise of serving lamb "pink" was something I only encountered for the first time in France. My mother would buy a piece of lamb shoulder or leg and roast it in one of those enamel tins with a dimpled lid that were the standard piece of kit for every housewife in the 50's and 60's. It would be cooked until it virtually fell apart with nice crozzled edges. Very tasty and it made a lovely shepherd's pie for the next day.
    A piece of lamb shoulder or even leg was cheaper than a chicken when I was a child.

  3. Brings to mind that old English
    staple boiled mutton.

  4. The thing is, the meat is not really boiled, and not stewed. It's not stew meat. It's rare or medium-rare, and it's very tender and delicate. Tim, I'm sure the stock or stew pot has been on the fire forever, but this poaching is different.

    Jean, what you describe is the gigot de sept heures. That's delicious but very different from a good pré salé gigot cooked rare or medium-rare.

  5. My mom cooked "picnic" hams like that and they were good. Of course they weren't rare. It's good that your lamb was rare and there wasn't a mess afterwards in the oven.

    I think I might like the sort of lamb Jean talks about- well done and tender is more to my taste.

  6. Ken

    Off-topic: Just want to let you know of an interesting site for "les Monuments Historiques" .


    I was doing a search on "Uboat bases" along the Atlantic coast and landed on the site. Look at "75", plenty to see :-)

  7. Ken, I read you every day but rarely comment. You mentioned the practice of baking in the remaining heat of the baker's oven. I am from German villages in Iowa, The Amana Colonies, and even to this day, we still have a baker who bakes in a wood heated oven. At Easter, especially, the local woman who are energetic enough to keep up the tradition, bring hams encased in bread dough (white or rye) and let them bake in the continued heat of the bread ovens. This is totally delicious, but as with everything, the younger women are not continuing the tradition because of the work involved. That is sad. I would probably bring my ham over to the baker every few months if I still lived within distance. Keep blogging. I so enjoy your mixture of postings. Susan

  8. Thank you, Susan. I have good memories of visiting the Amana area in Iowa, oh, nearly 40 years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed it.


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