The Lamb is in the Bath. Country Irish or Modernist Cuisine?

Lamb shoulder sous vide (6 of 7)When I was a very young lad, we holidayed on Valentia Island, just off the Kerry coast. I still have memories of seeing a sow and her numerous porky offspring resting in the kitchen of a farmhouse. At the time, I didn’t think much about it. On reflection, they were much simpler times and we kids were happy sleeping three to a bed in our holiday home. There was no internet, no television, one channel on the radio and only a small river to amuse us children.

These memories were brought back to me when, last week, I found myself reporting to the Wife that “The lamb is in the bath”. But, pigs in the kitchen are one thing. Sheep in the washroom is a step too far, even for me. Thankfully, I was referring to the shoulders of lamb that I had just popped into the sous vide bath to begin a 36 hour cooking. Here’s what I did:

First, I browned two lamb shoulders in a little oil in the frying pan.

Good quality Irish mountain lamb. This is as traditional Irish as it gets.

Good quality Irish mountain lamb. This is as traditional Irish as it gets.

I took the lamb off when it was browned enough to present well after 36 hours in the bath. On that point, I know I would not look too good after a 36 hour bath. Hopefully, the lamb comes out well!

Let's call it a bit of a tan. I didn't want to cook the lamb to any degree.

Let’s call it a bit of a tan. I didn’t want to cook the lamb to any degree.

Next, I seasoned the lamb with salt and pepper, added some rosemary sprigs and vacuum sealed them.

I feel 'all professional' using my home vacuum sealer. It's great fun.

I feel ‘all professional’ using my home vacuum sealer. It’s great fun.

The lamb goes into a water bath at 57ºC for 36 hours. Why 36? Because the advice is to cook it for between 24 and 48 hours depending on age. Given that the best I could get out of the butcher was “Oh, yeah, young lamb. Very tasty. Nice lamb.” I decided to go with the median time.

Thinking back on happy childhood memories and thinking of what to serve with the lamb, reminded me of a childhood dish of colcannon. One doesn’t see it often and that’s a shame. It consists of kale, chopped, cooked and mixed with mashed potatoes. It is lovely and is packed with great green goodness.

I cooked the kale in my wok. The high green colour tells you it's packed with goodness.

I cooked the kale in my wok. The high green colour tells you it’s packed with goodness.

After 36 hours, the lamb was cooked.

It really doesn't look the best, does it?

It really doesn’t look the best, does it?

The magic of the modernist cooking is revealed when I sliced into the traditional Irish joint of lamb.

Traditional lamb shoulder, cooked to perfection in a modernist way.

Traditional lamb shoulder, cooked to perfection in a modernist way.

I made a thin gravy using the bag juices and a glass of Marsala wine. Thin but packed with lovely lamb flavour.

Pardon my attempt at fancy plating. It's not really 'me'.

Pardon my attempt at fancy plating. It’s not really ‘me’.

The traditional and the modernist are brought together wonderfully in this simple dish. The sous vide lamb is amazingly tender yet full of flavour. The colcannon brings me back to the days when there were pigs in the kitchen, if not lambs in the bath.

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  • Beautifully cooked, Conor! I’m not sure I could wait a day and a half for my lamb, but it looks tasty.

    • Well worth the wait Nick. I did a leg the other morning / evening. 10 hours and worth every minute of the wait.

  • I really love reading your posts. Especially about the sous vide. I’m still trying to figure out how to make the most out of mine. Definitely going to give this one a go!

    • Thanks. That’s very kind of you. I have had some great successes (like this) and a couple of disasters. For the moment, I’ll keep the disasters to myself. I have a few more goodies to post just yet.

  • Rather more elegantly presented than the last lot of colcannon I had dolloped up to me in Ireland many years ago but I bet it tastes just as good. And the lamb looks splendid. You may yet convince me about sous vide cooking in a domestic kitchen. (I have so many bits of kit already I think the foundations will collapse if I get any more.)

    • There’s always room for additional kitchen kit Linda. All you need is the will and a desire for really tender, succulent lamb….

  • I love traditional cooking and there is something especially wonderful about slow cooking meat. The flavours are always enhanced in the process, even if modern technology is used. Looks so lovely, tender and juicy. Colcannon is a favorite in our house and we use kale as well. Did it traditionally call for cabbage?

    • Thanks for that indeed. It has been kale for as long as I can remember. I suspect it would not be too nice with cabbage (generally too watery).

  • That lamb looks like perfection on a plate!

    • Thanks. It really was very tender. Well worth doing, given that the shoulders are pretty inexpensive.

      • Looking at your posts and talking to in-laws who recently bought a sous vide machine is seriously tempting me to invest. I might have to wait til Christmas and put it on my wishlist!

        • That’s what I did (unwittingly). Eldest spoiled me.

  • Straight out of the bag, it looks rather as if it’s wrapped in soggy brown paper. But oh, the wonderful tender pinkness of it! My mouth is watering, even though my tummy is already full of a rather decent supper.

    • Thanks Kate. As a general rule, the stuff out of the sous vide looks pretty awful. However, once sliced….

  • Love the twist on the colcannon. Very posh plating. 🙂

    • I don’t generally get away with anything posh. My attention to detail is not what it needs to be to be five star.

      • I’m like you only I keep trying. I try to plate and things start rolling about!

  • Very nicely done. Glad to see your enjoying your sous vide experiences. It really is a fun way to cook.

    • Thanks Richard. We are having a blast with it. There is danger of this blog ending up like a poor mans Stefan Gourmet, if I continue. However, I don’t do instruction as well as Stefan.

  • I distinctly remember a huge thorn back ray in the bath when I was about 7. I think it was the only place big enough to wash it. It might have weighed as much as 20lb and getting the hook out was quite a challenge. Not so similarly, Heston cooked a whole pig sous vide in a jacuzzi a few years ago, but having sampled pork and lamb from the bath, I think lamb is the best choice – yours looks done to perfection 😉

    • Thanks MD for that. It reminded me of my own Dad soaking the Christmas ham in the bath to reduce the salt levels. Simpler times, for sure.

      • I distinctly remember the turkey being washed in the bath, but these days washing birds is out of fashion. I can appreciate though, that the heat in the oven is more effective at killing germs than a rinse in cold water.

        • The Irish Safe Food lot run advertising telling people to not wash raw chicken. I have to say, the depth of ignorance in our small society staggers me. Let them wash it and suffer the consequences. That will cure them.

          For the record, we never washed the turkey in the bath. There would have been no room in there, what with the ham…

          • Everyone washed their chicken and turkeys until 20 years ago – it was in all the recipe books. Then the hygiene police realised that washing spread germs that cooking kills regardless. No doubt the food police told everyone to wash meat in the 1950s…
            There’s some wonderful old footage on YouTube of Julia Child in a French fish market with a French woman demonstrating fileting, gutting, etc. The French woman says that one should never wash fish as it takes away the flavour and Julia has to make an explanation to her American audience who, of course, wash everything 😉
            This one I think.

          • Excellent programme. That French lady certainly knows how to fillet a flatfish.

          • Yes, absolutely brilliant!

  • This looks delicious. Damn you, Conor for making me crave dinner at 11AM. 🙂
    Again, I really need to look into that sous vide!

    • Sorry about that Yinz. I can’t wait to see what you could concoct that would be good sous vide and genuine 1972. That should be fun.

  • That lamb looks great, Conor! I hope you heated up the plates to do that fancy plating. It doesn’t really look ‘you’, but it does look nice. Did the Marsala work? I haven’t tried that with lamb yet. Looks like you made good calls on browning the lamb pre sv instead of post, and to cook for 36 hours.

    • Thanks Stefan. I was a bit uncomfortable about the fine dining aspect of the plating. The plate had been hot but, I was messing around for so long, I ended up with cold lamb. Nothing new there. I cooked a boned leg of spring lamb over the weekend (not all over the weekend, just 10 hours at 55ºC). It was awesome. More to follow later.

  • First of all I’m definitely going to make your potato mash. And your blog is the only place I have seen these fabulous sous vide baths and I’m so curious and intrigued. Looks like all I need is a vacuum food sealer? Must investigate more…

    • Get over to Stefan’s blog (link is one comment up). He is the sous vide king. He has a great instructional section on his site. Well worth the reading. You will need a sous vide machine of one sort or another. I have an Anova that looks like an immersion blender. The vacuum sealer is not essential starting out but they are not very expensive and are great fun (Sorry, that ‘s the small boy in me speaking).

  • That pic where you slice the lamb. I love the sexy even-ness of sous vide cooking. And colcannon is a damn good side 🙂
    Nice work my friend

    • Thank You! Wait until you see the slices of sous vide spring lamb I have just done. Dear lord, it was perfection.

  • Well shoot, I just wish lamb were more readily available and not so expensive in my area of the states! OK and the fact that I don’t own a sous vide machine either. HOWEVER, my sister came to visit from Texas last week and we actually found some teeny tiny lamb chops at the store for a price she said was “pretty good” although I choked on the price of it, but she paid so what the heck, right? We got all of two or three bites out of each one.

    • As long as somebody else is paying, I’d recommend you keep enjoying it. It’s a pity it’s so expensive.

  • gosh, you made me hunting for lamb in the supermarket tomorrow Connor….
    Dakmn delicious lamb shoulder!!!

    • Thanks Dedy. Great to see I have inspired you.

  • I actually had a water bath bought for me last year for my birthday, but, sadly, my lovely wife hadn’t realised you need the sous vide machine and I still haven’t got round to it yet…This looks the business though Conor. I often wondered if you could put large(ish) joints in there.

    I know this cooking is great for commercial kitchens (I spoke to a very good local chef about it) as the meat, especially delicate game, can stay in the bath indefinitely then opened and browned off just before service apparently. Who knew?

    • Hi Phil,
      I cooked a boned keg of lamb in it last weekend. 10 hours at 55°C and it was fantastic. I was trepidating as it was an expensive leg and my first if the season. I should not have been concerned. It has to have a role to play for dinner parties too as the timing is very forgiving.

  • It looks delicious – i have to admit that I presumed the lamb was live for some reason 😉 (after all, lambs in the bottom part of an Aga are often being revived!)

    • Lorna, when a lamb makes it into my suburban kitchen, it’s a one-way trip.

  • You kids had a great deal more natural fun without all that electrical stuff THEN, so did I . . .mostly still do!! Eureka!!!! Love the lamb, boringly still cook it without any sous-vide baths . . . still enjoy it to buggery . . . Tell me one good and practical reason to change!!!!!

    • I have a couple of lam shoulder recipes yet to post. Neither are sous vide. I hope they get an Eha ‘thumbs up’. 😀

  • This makes me wonder if our forebears weren’t actually quite advanced in their cooking, Conor. Many were well acquainted with cooking meat for hours and hours and hours (and hours). It’s just a shame they did it at boiling temperature – but for one teeny tiny detail they could have had meat as nice as yours looks here. A small oversight on their part.

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