Having had my breast of lam last night I managed to find myself a copy of Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking. I have a copy of it already but this was a different edition and looked as if it had hardly been opened despite being thirty years old. At £3.00 it was almost as good a bargain as the lamb. The recipe was in there under its proper name Breast of Lamb Ste-Ménéhould.
When Simon Hopkinson came to write about it in his book Roast Chicken & Other Stories he takes the recipe from An Omelette and a Glass of Wine. The only difference I can see between the two recipes is the reference to her buying the lamb from Harrods in the later book. I guess shopping in Harrods wouldn’t fit in a book about French cooking.
Here’s Simon Hopkinson writing about it in The Observer a few weeks ago.
Only a week before the death of Elizabeth David, I finally prepared Breast of Lamb Ste-Ménéhould. The recipe was originally published for the Spectator, in 1961. This discussion-including-a-recipe was possibly seen as wilfully casual by irate readers, who simply wished for their usual instructions: ingredients/method/result, please? But she had particularly asked whether she might present her articles in such a way.
I first came across it in An Omelette and a Glass of Wine and had always wanted to cook and eat it. Elizabeth had become a good friend, and I was a great admirer of her writing. I only wish I could have cooked it for her, as I know it was one of her favourites. We would have drunk a bottle of old Rhone with it. Maybe two …
From An Omelette and a Glass of Wine
One of the breadcrumb-grilled dishes I like best is the one called Breast of Lamb Ste-Ménéhould. It is very cheap (breast of English lamb was 8d. a pound at Harrods last Saturday – one often finds a cheap cut cheaper and of better quality in a high-class butchery than in a so-called cheap one, and 2½ lb [1.15kg] was plenty for four), but I am not pretending it is a dish for 10-minute cooks. It is one for those who have the time and the urge to get real value out of cheap ingredients. First you have to braise or bake the meat in the oven with sliced carrots, an onion or two, a bunch of herbs and, if you like, a little something extra in the way of flavouring such as two or three ounces of a cheap little bit of bacon or salt pork, plus seasonings and about a pint of water. It takes about 2½ to 3 hours – depending on the quality of the meat – covered, in a slow oven. Then, while the meat is still warm, you slip out the bones, leave the meat to cool, preferably with a weight on it, and then slice it into strips slightly on the bias and about 1½ to 2 inches wide. Next, spread each strip with a little mustard, paint it with beaten egg (one will be enough for 2½ lb of meat), then coat it with the breadcrumbs, pressing them well down into the meat and round the sides. (I always use breadcrumbs which I’ve made myself from a French loaf, sliced, and dried in the plate drawer underneath the oven. I know people who think this business of making breadcrumbs is a terrible worry, but once the bread is dried it’s a matter of minutes to pound it up with a rolling pin or with a pestle – quicker than doing it in an electric blender.)
All this breadcrumbing finished, you can put the meat on a grid over a baking dish and leave it until you are ready to cook it. Then it goes into a moderate oven for about 20 minutes, because if you put it straight under the grill the outside gets browned before the meat itself is hot. As you transfer the whole lot to the grill pour a very little melted butter over each slice, put them close to the heat, then keep a sharp lookout and turn each piece as the first signs of sizzling and scorching appear.
The plates and dishes should be sizzling too, and some sort of sharp, oil-based sauce – a vinaigrette, a tartare, a mustardy mayonnaise – usually goes with this kind of dish.