Blessed Fish and My Grandmother’s Lamb
We are smack dab in the middle of the Lenten Season and Easter is only a few weeks away.
This time of year always brings memories of my grandmother’s dining room. Easters used to be elaborate occasions in my family— new church clothes, hidden candy tucked away in pastel-colored plastic eggs, the annual family photograph, china, crystal, silver, and leg of lamb.
My grandmother worked in food as an artist might work in acrylics or egg tempera. The Easter leg of lamb was her masterpiece.
Unlike lamb chops, leg of lamb should never be cooked to medium rare or medium. It is a tougher cut and benefits from the longer cooking time as the tissue tends to break down and make the meat tenderer. My grandmother always made a simple gravy with the drippings from the roasting pan to accompany the lamb and served mint jelly on the side. It was a meal fit for a king, or possibly a Pope.
A few weeks ago the president of the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain of restaurants wrote a letter to the Pontiff asking him to bless their new fish sandwich.
KFC’s Fish Snacker Sandwich consists of a fried Alaskan Pollack filet with tartar sauce on a sesame seed bun. The Associated Press reprinted a portion of the press release that described the sandwich as, “ideal for American Catholics who want to observe Lenten season traditions while still leading their busy, modern lifestyles.”
I am a Methodist. Granted, I don’t know much about Catholicism, but if the Pope blesses a fast-food fish sandwich, I think I could probably get a deferred blessing for my grandmother’s leg of lamb. It was certainly as close to heaven on a plate as any food I have ever tasted. Her mashed potatoes were better than KFC’s and no one at her dinner table had to use a spork. As for the eleven secret herbs and spices, my grandmother used only salt and pepper to season her lamb— no secrets, there.
KFC can have Fridays for their fish sandwich. Give me Sundays for my grandmother’s leg of lamb.
So if the Catholics get a fish sandwich and we Methodists get leg of lamb, where does that leave the Baptists? What food would my Baptist friends submit to the leader of the Southern Baptist Convention for an official blessing? The Presbyterians? The Lutherans?
In my most recent cookbook, Deep South Parties, I offered several recipes for punch, each broken out by denomination. The Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian punches were harmless, though tasty, offerings. The Catholic punch was made stronger with the addition of wine, and the Episcopalian punch— a recipe that came from one of my uncle’s church members (he’s an Episcopal rector)— requires a designated driver.
As of this writing, I couldn’t find a news story that reported a response from the Pope. If the Vatican does indeed officially bless the fish sandwich, I would look for the culinary floodgates to open and requests for Big Mac and Whopper blessings to come pouring in immediately.
In the meantime, I’m going to be roasting a leg of lamb on Easter Sunday— blessed or not.
Ned and me in my grandmother's backyard, Easter '65
Leg of Lamb with Raspberry Mint Chutney
Preheat oven to 375
1 Leg of Lamb, bone in, about 6-7 pounds
12 cloves fresh garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbl fresh chopped rosemary
1 Tbl fresh chopped thyme
3 Tbl kosher salt
1 Tbl fresh ground black pepper
Using a paring knife, cut 12 small pockets, spread out in the lamb leg.
Insert one clove of garlic into each pocket.
Rub the leg with the olive oil, the rub the herbs, salt and pepper over the leg.
Place the lamb in a large roasting pan, and place it in the preheated oven.
Roast for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 and continue to bake for 1 hour and 30 minutes to achieve a medium- medium well temperature. If using a thermometer, it should register 155 degrees.
Remove from the oven and allow the lamb to rest for 10 minutes. The temperature of the lamb will rise a few degrees while resting. Slice thinly around the bone and serve.
Raspberry Mint Chutney
1 Tbl olive oil
1 /2 cup shallots, minced
1 Tbl garlic, minced
1 Tbl fresh ginger, minced fine
2 tsp curry powder
1 /4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 /2 cup sherry
3 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 cup mint jelly
1 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp water
1 /2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbl fresh mint, chopped
In a small sauce pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat and cook shallots 3-4 minutes. Stir in garlic, ginger and seasonings, and cook 3-4 more minutes, stirring often. Do not let garlic brown. Deglaze with sherry and reduce by half.
Stir in 2 cups of the raspberries, chicken broth and bay leaf and simmer 15-20 minutes, until reduced by half. Stir in mint jelly and cook three minutes more, stirring constantly. Dissolve the cornstarch with the 2 teaspoons of water and stir it into the simmering sauce. Allow the sauce to thicken then remove from the heat and strain. Stir in the vinegar, fresh mint and remaining cup of raspberries.
Serve at room temperature.