The spousal unit had a birthday this week. A big one, if you know what I mean. One with a zero. While most people like to go out and celebrate on their birthday, especially a big one, the S.U. decisively chooses dinner at home every year. He very rarely even makes specific requests, which exhibits either a tremendous amount of trust in me or a troubling lack of concern about his dinner. I choose to believe the former. If you know differently, please don’t tell me. I need my fantasies.
Last year, having fallen prey to the siren call of a shiny black tautog at the farmer’s market, I pursued a pescatorian path. Underestimating my own ability to clean a fish, I had to ask for help. Probably not my brightest moment: getting elbow deep in fish guts kind of takes the bloom off the old birthday rose. This year I heeded the voice of lamb calling me, specifically the corned lamb I ate at Le Pigeon in Portland. As I thought back on this dish, I remembered how each component was an interesting play on a traditional corned beef dinner: lamb instead of beef; mustard delicately saucing the potatoes instead of on the side; a cabbage cream instead of boiled cabbage; freshly grated horseradish instead of prepared. I knew I had my work cut out for me to attempt creating and uglier but still delicious version of this dish.
Long story short: I procured a beautiful lamb shoulder from Persimmon Provisions. I separated it at the shoulder joint and boned out half for a lamb pastrami experiment (spoiler alert: delicious). I brined the other half for three days, following the recipe for corned beef in Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie, and then poached the meat for three hours until it reached the perfect state of wobbliness. I portioned it out, seared the hell out of the fat cap, and served it over boiled new potatoes tossed with butter, grainy mustard, and mascarpone, surrounded by an onion soubise (the birthday boy is not a huge cabbage fan). The original dish featured Oregon huckleberries; I substituted pickled cherries that I made in the height of cherry season and fashioned a gastrique using the cherry pickling liquid.
I will not lie: this supremely unattractive dish was astoundingly delicious, but it only achieved full glory when matched with a weird 2009 Kenneth Volk Mouvèdre from the Central Coast of California. When I bought this wine four years ago, I stowed it away with the following tasting note: “Brambleberry, salt, smoke!!! Rustic and wild. Needs lamb or game.” I almost dislocated my own shoulder patting myself on the back for this pairing. I can’t imagine a better duo. This wine, 100% Mouvèdre, really drove home for me what this grape brings to many of my favorite French red wines (CdP, GSM, Bordeaux). Ergo: delicious + educational. Win!
We cleansed our palates with a salad of melon and cucumber, quick pickled in rice wine vinegar, served with crispy bacon, a good glug of peppery Greek olive oil, and thin slices of serrano. It was the only way I could think of to bring some oomph to the shockingly flavor-less melon that came in last week’s CSA box. I enjoyed the salad, but it was a little like wearing a padded bra: there’s only so much you can do when the raw materials underwhelm.
I made some decadent shortbread cookies studded with toffee for dessert which we kind of ignored in favor of drinking more of that Mouvèdre.
*Owing to the failure of the American educational system (or, more likely, my own inattention in Odessa Coulter’s 11th grade English class), I know diddly squat about T.S Eliot, other than that his name is the best-known anagram of toilets. I only know this from watching the brilliant John Sessions render nonsense in the style of Eliot on the pilot of Whose Line is it Anyway?
But this morning, as I was getting ready for work, Jay started reading me some of Eliot’s poetry, ostensibly to prove what a crap poet he was. I disagree. I think Eliot was just composing in the wrong era. Take his verse and stick a thumping bass behind it and you’ve got some pretty impressive rap songs. Or, conversely, plop his words over a topsy-turvy score, and you’ve got a comic opera worthy of Gilbert & Sullivan. See? A victim of his time, I tell you! Eliot also wrote a lot of poems about cats and, having read some of them, Jay insists that he certainly never owned a cat. He assuredly never owned one who vomited all over his mid-century Heywood Wakefield sofa, as one of mine did this morning.
In conclusion, we had a great birthday dinner and we learned something about poetry. Go to the 1:35 mark (or so) to enhance your own knowledge of T.S. Eliot, as well as Daniel Defoe, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Jackie Collins.