Four-Hour Lamb Shoulder with White Beans and Olive Tapenade

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Hold your ears, short ribs, and hide your eyes pork butt: lamb shoulder is quickly becoming my favorite cut of meat to cook at home. I’ve sung its praises before here on the blog, but lately I’ve been on a real lamb shoulder kick. I made April Bloomfield’s version for a crowd recently and they all went nuts for it (hers has anchovies in the mix, which show up in today’s version in the olive tapenade; anchovies and lamb make a surprisingly good match) but even the simplest version–today’s comes from my friend Clotilde–can still wow. And now that it’s spring, it’s a perfect thing to serve along with white beans (traditionally flageolets) and a zesty olive tapenade.

It’s almost impossible to explain how easy this is. Preheat your oven to 300 (Clotilde says 250 but I found that to be slightly too low to get the lamb going; one hour in and it hardly made a sizzle, so fiddle around and see what feels right to you) and stick a 3 1/2 pound lamb shoulder in a large oven-proof Dutch Oven. Rub it all over with olive oil, sprinkle it generously with salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence, break up a head of garlic and throw that in skin and all and then pour in 1/2 a cup of white wine.

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Cover the pot, put it in the oven, and slow-cook it for four hours, taking it out every hour and flipping it, basting as it goes.

Isn’t that insanely easy? Admit it.

Meanwhile, start your beans. I couldn’t find flageolets so I used Northern White beans which worked ok. I did a quick soak where you put them in a pot with cold water, bring it to a boil, turn off the heat, cover it and let it stand one hour. Then I drained them, added them back to the pot with fresh cold water, half an onion, a bay leaf, a head of garlic and a bit of salt; up to a simmer it went and it only took about 90 minutes until they were creamy.

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While that’s happening, make your tapenade. This idea comes from David Tanis’s A Platter of Figs. In fact, I initially got the idea to make this dinner from his cookbook; only his recipe made me nervous. You only roast the lamb shoulder for 45 minutes at 375. How could a cut of meat that also can cook for 4 hours be done in 45 minutes? I feared it would be too tough. So I deferred to Clotilde’s, winged the beans myself and used his tapenade.

His tapenade is fantastic. Let’s look at a pretty picture of olive pits before I tell you about it.

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Into a food processor you place 2 cups of oil-cured olives (he says 1/2 Moroccan, half Nicoise but I used what I could find at Gelson’s), capers (which, I sadly, didn’t have and I bet that makes a big difference), garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, thyme, anchovies, olive oil, salt, pepper and a pinch of Cayenne:

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BLITZ!

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Isn’t that nice? It’s almost like olive caviar.

At this point, you really don’t have to do much until your guests arrive. When your beans finish, drain them (saving the liquid) and keep them in a pot, covered, on the stove–off the heat. When the lamb’s done, four hours later, take it out and let it sit too. The tapenade just needs to be covered.

Then, when it’s time to plate, add about 1/2 cup to 1 cup of the bean liquid to the beans, turn up the heat and stir around until the beans are warm; then add a glug of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and chopped parsley. Put that on one side of the plate, remove the lamb from the Dutch oven and carve that up. While you’re doing that, crank the heat on the liquid left over in the pot and let it reduce until it tastes terrific. Place lamb next to the beans and drizzle with that liquid. Serve that up with the olive relish on the side, letting your guests dole that out themselves.

Look how happy our friends Travis and Matt are with their plates:

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And here’s how it looks with the olive relish on the side.

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Springtime is lamb time and this dinner’s as easy and rewarding as it gets. Serve it up with a bold red wine and you’re good to go. Sorry short ribs and pork butt, lamb shoulder is my new best meat friend.

Recipe: Four-Hour Lamb Shoulder with White Beans and Olive Tapenade

Summary: Inspired by Clotilde Dusoulier and David Tanis.

Ingredients

  • 1 3 1/2 pound lamb shoulder, bone-in
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons Herbes de Provence (you should be able to find it marked as such; it’s just dried rosemary, thyme, basil and marjoram)
  • A whole head of garlic broken into cloves, but keep the skin on
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (drink the rest while you cook!)
  • 1 bag dried flageolets or other white beans (make the whole bag and save the rest for later)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups oil-cured olives, pitted (a combo of Moroccan and Nicoise is nice but not essential)
  • 2 teaspoons capers, well-rinsed (if salt-packed)
  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • Lemon zest from half a lemon
  • Juice of 1 small lemon
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme (optional)
  • 2 anchovy fillets, well-rinsed (if salt-packed) and chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (give or take some)
  • A pinch of cayenne
  • Chopped parsley

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 F. Place the lamb shoulder in an oven-proof Dutch oven and rub it all over with a splash of olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and then the Herbes de Provence. Scatter the garlic around the lamb and pour in the white wine. Cover the Dutch oven and place into your oven, cooking for four hours, flipping the lamb every hour and basting while you do.
  2. Meanwhile, make the beans. If you had the time to soak them the night before you can skip the quick-soak step; if you didn’t, put them in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil, cover with lid, turn off the heat and let stand one hour.
  3. Drain, put back into the pot with more cold water (covered by two inches), the whole yellow onion (skin and all), the bay leaf and a generous pinch of salt. (You could also throw in a head of garlic here but it’s not entirely necessary. You’re just flavoring the water.) Bring to a simmer and cook about 90 minutes, tasting after 60 to see if they’re creamy yet. Stop when they’re creamy, seasoning again towards the end. Drain and save the cooking liquid.
  4. Finally, make the olive tapenade by pulsing the olives, capers, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, thyme, anchovies, 1/2 cup of the olive oil and a pinch of cayenne in a blender or food processor. Taste for balance then scrape into a bowl.
  5. To serve, heat the beans with some of the conserved cooking liquid and when they’re warm, pour in some olive oil and chopped parsley. Spoon on to warmed plates.
  6. Meanwhile remove the lamb from the Dutch oven and taste the liquid left behind. If it’s not particularly flavorful, turn up the heat and allow it to reduce until it is.
  7. Carve the lamb (it’ll fall apart, it’s so tender) and plate next to the beans. Spoon the hot lamb jus over the lamb and the beans, sprinkle the plate with more parsley. Serve with the olive tapenade on the side.

Preparation time: 1 hour(s)

Cooking time: 4 hour(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

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12 comments

  1. Sounds delicious. As a Britt there is a tendency to put mashed potato with everything but I have recently been using mashed white beans for a great substitute. I haven’t yet been using dried beans but this might give me the push.

  2. Here I am, writing a post on why I’m eating less meat and choosing meats with lower environmental impact — lamb has the worst impact, 50% higher than beef — and now all I want is this dish. Right now.
    Think this would work with rabbit? Very different dish, but seems the flavors & long braise could do well. Otherwise, I guess this is where the “and if you do eat it, buy grass-fed, organic, and/or pastured, from a good source, make something absolutely delicious with it, and enjoy every last bite of it,” part comes in.

  3. If memory serves, Thomas Keller was famous for his lamb shanks and white beans at Allyson on Dominick Yours brought back the rush of one of my very favorite dishes Just wish it wasn’t 98 out there

  4. So glad you were inspired to try this, Adam — it looks great and your guests do look thrilled. :)

    Just as an FYI, the word tapenade comes from the Occitan word “tapena” which means capers, so purists would call your version an olivade.

  5. Not sure about rabbit farming in the US, but in France at least, the vast majority of rabbits are farmed in conditions equivalent to the worst of intensive poultry farming. There are videos on YouTube…

  6. Made this for dinner on Saturday, and we loved it. Thank you for getting us to try lamb shoulder! We looked as happy as your friends in that picture. If you’re curious how this turned out on the other side of the country, I’ve got a couple photos on my blog. (alittlesaffron.com)

  7. Sorry to hear. I’m in the SF Bay Area in California – I’ll have to ask around and see what our suppliers are like. I know rabbits are very environmentally efficient as far as small-scale, home-raised meat animals, but I don’t actually know about the folks raising the commercially available ones around here. Thanks for the heads up.

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