It's springtime. The days are growing warmer and longer; the abundance of vegetables and fruits available at farmers' markets makes it essentially impossible not to buy more than we can actually eat, and, oh, yeah — there's also spring lamb.
Although Sher and I have been cooking (and learning how to cook) over wood fire for nearly a decade now — and have even attempted the far more challenging Patagonian specialty, lamb al asador — for some inexplicable reason it was only a few weeks ago that we decided to try our hand at gigot à la ficelle.
We first read about this Provençal classic in Richard Olney's superb, and still in print, Lulu's Provençal Table: The Exuberant Food & Wine from Domaine Tempier.
Long before the world's obsession with celebrity chefs and their sexily photographed, and largely never cooked from cookbooks, the American ex-pat Olney (along with the British writer Elizabeth David) was one of the great food writers — and this is one of his best efforts. (His Simple French Food is another.)
For wine lovers, Olney's book is also something of a history — but really a kind of love letter — to the Peyraud family of Bandol's iconic Domaine Tempier (they were good friends and neighbors). The marvelous Lulu of the book's title, by the way, recently celebrated her 98th birthday. Her longevity, no doubt, tied to a life filled with loving family and friends, excellent food and wine. Though interestingly, Lulu, it is said, never drinks water: "I don't want to rust," I've been told, is her thinking on the matter of hydration.
The catalyst that finally got us serious about making this simple and tasty dish finally arrived in a recent cookbook from our friends Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain in their terrific and inspired, This is Camino.
Dangling a leg of lamb from a string inches just from a vertical fire resulted in not only one of the most satisfying dishes we've made, but, damn, also made us realize that this is what cave people did for entertainment — sit around with friends while staring at a large hunk of meat as it hypnotically turns this way then that, mostly by itself, with the assistance of a few spins, gaining a shimmering patina with each rotation.
If you have an indoor fireplace or can improvise a backyard or other outdoor situation, we urge you try it.
For the wine, although a special dish demands a special wine you needn't go too crazy — unless, of course, you choose to.
To accompany lamb, I'm partial to medium bodied reds with lively fruit and maybe a dash of peppery spice and earthy crunch. The above-mentioned Bandol reds from Domaine Tempier are an obvious and excellent way to go, but there are lots of other choices that will make you plenty happy.