As well as being someone who spends more money than he should on wine and eating out, I also like to turn my hand at cooking up a storm in the kitchen. I particularly like trying out new, interesting or different recipes – not that I’m very good at sticking to them. I tend to get my ideas from watching some of the many cooking programmes that are on television, as well as a bit of internet research. One cooking technique that I’d recently seen was the technique of salt-baking where one essentially creates a salt and flour dough crust around what you are cooking, with the idea that the joint of meat or vegetable contained therein will retain its moisture and slow cook to perfection.
That’s the idea, at least.
I decided to use New Year’s Eve as the excuse to try out this particular technique. My aim was to cook a lovely shoulder of lamb I’d obtained from my local butchers (the fantastic The Butchery in Forest Hill).
To make the salt crust, I used the following:
- 200g sea salt
- 600g plain flour
- 6 egg whites
- 200ml water
I put the flour and salt into my kitchen mixer, turned it on and then added the egg whites. I then started to add the water – it is important to do this very slowly.
As I was doing this the dough started to come together into a more homogenous unit. After about five minutes it had formed a fairly solid looking dough ball. I wrapped this salt-dough in some cling-film and put it in the refrigerator for about an hour and a half. Whilst the salt-dough was chilling, I gave the lamb shoulder a good rub with some olive oil, salt, garlic, rosemary and pepper. Once the salt-dough was ready I rolled it out using a rolling pin into a square shape about half an inch thick. I then placed the joint in the middle of the salt-dough and wrapped it up like a parcel (which was quite demanding for me as I am awful at parcel wrapping). I then put the parcel in the oven for four hours at 130°. My impression was that I hadn’t got the salt-dough quite right as it had seemed to have some slight holes in it; I’d guess that this was because it could have done with a touch more water.
Getting the cooking time right was the tricky part. I didn’t really have anything to go on here, but given the size of the joint and the low temperature I felt I was in the right area. During the cooking the salt crust around the joint hardened up nicely and went a kind of golden brown. I took it out to rest for half-an-hour prior to serving. During this time I used a meat thermometer to check the temperature of the joint and it was 87°.
The fun part comes when you have to serve it, as the salt-bake had become very tough and hard during the cooking process. I took a rolling pin to mine to break it open.
As I opened it up a lovely steam came out and I could see that the meat had cooked very nicely indeed. I carved the meat from the bone into nice, big chunks and the meat was deliciously tender and moist, as hoped. As someone who likes his meat on the pink side, I would say that the meat certainly wasn’t rare; however, given it had been slow cooked for a long period of time, this was to be expected. My harshest critic (my wife) confirmed that the meat had been well cooked and that she’d enjoyed it – phew!
I served the lamb with a nice, fruity and fragrant Pinot Noir from Sonoma County, California – which was a perfect match.
All-in-all I was pretty pleased with how this went; particularly given it was a first attempt. It is certainly a technique that I would like to try with other cuts and other meats.