from "Living Within", May2014
I have been away from home over Easter, in South West France, and it was lovely. The air full of perfume and promise, the afternoon sun as strong as summer, and the spring flora already including full-on rose and jasmine blooms in amongst the wisteria and the iris - delicious! We ate outdoors and, with a special occasion and visitors on the horizon, put lamb on the menu. Not having a spit roast attachment for my barbecue (or more accurately, not one that anyone can locate or has learned how to use) my habit, domestically, would be to get Paul from the Game Larder to butterfly a leg of lamb so that it might be cooked flat against the irons, and both it and we might seem a bit relaxed - casual even - with an easygoing centrepiece for an outdoor lunch and no deadline pressure for guests whose ETA is likely to be very approximate.
I took out my dictionary in attempt to work out if the word “papillon” might be “verbed”, or substituted for more appropriate idiom, in order to explain to Paul’s French counterpart (Alain) exactly what I required. I struggled, however, to find direct translation for this procedure; one that wouldn’t leave me potentially misunderstood (if not actively laughed at) or, worse, without the cut I wanted.
In the event I opted to play it safe and went with description, but did happen to thrown in that, back in Blighty, we call the end result a butterfly. Arched eyebrows and a bit of bemusement at this English oddball request may have followed, but we all played it straight in the moment, the lamb was ordered, no obvious face was lost, and the technique with the pretty name in English beautifully achieved. There were remarks, however, as I went to collect it later, that Monsieur Evrard (Alain’s more formal “nom de guerre”) had understood, as he laid out the finished lamb, how perfectly apt is the “butterfly” moniker - maybe we English have just taught the French something about the charm of language, and, maybe, this little corner of France will put “papillon-ing” on the list of butchery techniques that they offer as a summer special; I can but dream.
But back to the cooking. Butterflied lamb can be treated as a whole piece or cut into a few large ones (three or four, along obvious lines once you have it in front of you) to keep the meat evenly sized - in terms of thickness - across the grill, and help it to take on as much “aromatising” over its surface area as possible.
Rub salt and pepper all over, coat with a little oil (olive or other cooking), and then add whatever herbs you think might complement. Thyme and Rosemary are always a good bet, lemon juice (and zest) will help to flavour and to tenderise - white wine would do similar job - and garlic, chopped fine, is particularly good as the new season bulbs, fresh out of the ground, start to make an appearance on the markets with their delicate spring flavour.
Rub this marinade over the meat, turn the meat in it from time to time, but otherwise leave it to take on board flavour for at least an hour. Remove it from the fridge for the last hour in any case, even if you have left it marinading for much longer - it is never a good idea to put overly chilled meat straight into the oven or on the grill; the cooking time is harder to predict if the edges and the middle have a lot of catching up to do with each other, especially if the meat will not require much cooking.
Sear the meat on a barbecue grill for about 3 minutes a side (until it looks nicely charred in patches) and then finish it off with another 5 minutes or so, either in a hot oven or slightly above the coals and with the lid on the barbecue (longer if you want your lamb only just pink rather than very rare - press it gently to see how it is doing - the more give there is in the meat the rarer the result; go carefully and check often, once you have lost any bounce you will have lost much of the tenderness and all colour except brown).
Leave to rest for about 10 or 15 minutes, then slice and serve with salad, cooked vegetables, potatoes, bread, some type of grain or lentil - whatever takes your fancy - and maybe more fresh herbs as garnish or sauce (and don’t forget that mint goes very well with lamb).
The whole process is probably simpler if you happen to live near Claygate as Paul and his team have already perfected the art of the butcher’s butterfly and we can be pretty sure will know exactly what is meant if we ask for one. With my garden roses here currently in bud and the jasmine looking promising, we are only a short way behind our southern French confrères; we should be in our element “à table” out of doors in no time.