Sunday, 15 April 2012

Day 57: Roasted Seasoned Lamb for Easter, Πασχαλινό Αρνί του Φούρνου - Χριστός Ανέστη! Christ is Risen!

Χριστός Ανέστη! Christos Anesti! 
Kalo Pascha 
Christ is Risen!  Truly He is Risen!
Source of image:χριστός-ανέστη-христос-воскресе/
Last night, we had some μαγερίτσα, αυγά, τσουρέκι, και τυρί.  What a lovely way to celebrate Pascha.  And, there is still more celebrating to do.  Usually, on the Sunday of Pascha (today), families and friends will gather together to roast a lamb or a goat on a large spit (souvla).  It's a process that takes many hours to get the charcoal fire just right for the lamb, and then seasoning the animal and turning it... it  is a huge undertaking!  

But what do you do if you do not have a souvla (large spit) or a large family to share an entire lamb?  Of course, the answer is that you buy the leg of lamb.  Shoulder would be fine, too, but typically, it is the leg.  That's one part of the equation.  Not having a souvla is the other part.  What do you do?  

Well, you could put the leg of lamb on the barbecue grill and grill it.  That would still take a couple of hours, and  a lot of propane or charcoal.  You could forget the lamb, but then, it wouldn't feel like a Pascha celebration.  Or, you could go the easy route and put the lamb in the oven.

Our lamb leg went in the oven.  We were going to have just a small gathering of people, so we wanted to have a small amount of lamb.  It is not hard to find lamb in the grocery stores right now, in fact, there is so much available, that we thought about waiting until next week to buy some because it will be less expensive after our Pascha.  But, not everyone has a pan to fit an entire leg of lamb.

We are blessed to have a Greek butcher.  He's wonderful, and he understands that not everyone can buy the entire animal.  So, we bought half.  We really went for just a leg, but the half a lamb was so enticing, we had to have it.  Here is what half a lamb looks like:

Even half a lamb seems like a lot, but we decided to freeze the chops for a quick meal in the oven or on the barbecue.  We individually wrapped them so we can pull out of the freezer just what we need for that day.

We decided that we wanted to share the most common, typical way of preparing leg of lamb for the oven.  We went to a church that used to hold a community "Agape Meal" (the meal eaten to break the fast for Pascha, and this is exactly how thy did it, even though they were feeding a hundred or two hundred people.)  This must be a good recipe or method if that many people returned for the Agape Meal every year.

Here is what you need to make a leg of lamb:

1 lamb leg
1 head garlic, peeled, cleaned
salt, pepper to taste
oregano, preferably on the stem
red wine (amounts vary)

First, wash the lamb with cold water to remove any residue that the butcher left on it.   Then, set it into a baking pan/roasting pan -- wherever it fits.  Our butcher broke the leg (really, he cut through the bone) for us to make sure that it fit in the oven.  At home, we would not have the tools to cut through that large of a bone.  You can ask the butcher to cut the bone for you, but be careful... some butchers will keep that end piece and charge you for it.  then, they re-sell it for a bit of money.  It is useful to make a little stock and/or gravy, or to boil it and use that liquid to cook manestra... ok, that's another day.  For today, just put the entire leg and bones in the pan.

Then, make sure all the garlic is cleaned of skin, remove that brown nub at the top of each clove, and then make sure there are no spots on the cloves of garlic.  

Next, we cut each clove in half, so it became a really big sliver.  Sliver implies small and thin, but when you just cut the garlic clove in half lengthwise, you will end up with a generous sliver.  A generous sliver is good!  This also made the garlic cloves more uniform in size.  

Now, it is time to put the garlic into the leg of lamb.  You can put as much as you like or as little as you like.  We are going to put them inside the leg of lamb.  Here is how...

Start by poking the tip of a knife into the leg of lamb.  The tip should be inserted about 1/2 inch deep into the meat.  To do this, insert the tip and push in to the meat, then while the knife is still inserted into the meat, turn the knife around in a circle to create a hole.  

Push, with your finger or thumb, push the garlic clove into the hole until the top of the garlic clove is flush with the skin of the lamb. 

Do this as many times as you like.  We put about a dozen cloves of garlic in this leg of lamb.  We even tucked in a few cloves in the place where the butcher made the cut on the bone, and even a couple under the skin.  That works, too, but there are not always areas where you can lift the skin to put cloves under there.  Creating the holes guarantees that the garlic will impart flavour into the lamb.  Then, we put the extra or leftover cloves of garlic into the baking pan so we could have a little "roasted" garlic.

We used red wine as a flavouring or seasoning on the lamb.  This was a deep Cabernet Sauvignon, but we would use whatever wine we are drinking at the time.  Pour the wine all over the lamb leg.  It will sink into and through those garlic holes, too!  Pour enough wine to cover the lamb and have about 1/4 inch in the bottom of the pan.

After pouring the wine, add the pepper and salt to the lamb.  Use them both all over the skin, and be generous.  The fat of the lamb melts and the salt and pepper go with it into the bottom of the pan, so you have to be a little generous to create that nice, somewhat crusty skin that many Greeks pick at all through a meal.  

 And, here is the fun part.  For many days, we have discussed the beauty of using Greek oregano -- the kind on the stem that is more flavourful than 10 of the little containers from the grocery stores.  We have made note about placing the full stem of oregano in a food to allow it to incorporate more flavour into the food that comes from the stem... well, guess what we added to the lamb?  Yes, add the Greek Oregano -- full stems and leaves!  Drop the whole stem in there, don't be shy with this seasoning. 

Next, make sure you have about 1/2 inch of liquid in the bottom of the pan.  You can just add water to the pan.  That's what we did.  We added about a cup of water to the bottom of the pan, there with the wine, and that liquid generated a nice amount of very tasty "ζουμό" (au jus) after cooking.

Then, put the leg of lamb in the preheated 335° F oven for the next 90 minutes or so.  There are theories about cooking lamb for 30 minutes per pound.  You do not need to cover it, but you can with foil if you want.  You would want to make a tent with the foil so the aluminium does not react with the wine.  Or, put a piece of parchment paper between the lamb and the foil.  But, remember that when you cover something in the oven and it has liquid, the liquid will create steam for that food which cooks faster.  You will also need to uncover it near the end of the cooking process so that the leg of lamb will get that nice golden, roasted colour.  We would prefer if you did not cover it at all.

So, after you have cooked it for a while, check the juices that come out of the lamb.  If the juices are clear or light in hue, the lamb is done.  If you see red, then let the lamb cook longer.  Or, if you are using a thermometer, you should reach an internal temperature of 150-160° F.  Then, let the lamb leg rest for about 15 minutes.

Look what you get -- a beautiful roasted leg of lamb that is calling your name..

Χριστός Ανέστη! Christos Anesti!
Christ is Risen!  Truly He is Risen!    
Kalo Pascha!  
And, kali orexi!  Και, Καλή Όρεξη!


Day 56: Mageritsa

Tonight's the night that we break our fast and bite into a few delicacies that we have been thinking about since we started this blog.  But, first things first, here.  We have to say a prayer of thanks for the sacrifice that Christ made for us -- His life.  Then, we want to thank all of you for reading and following us through this journey.  One more day (Pascha)!  And, there are other times, too, but that will come...  So, thank you, and stay with us for other interesting fasting appropriate foods.

Picture taken directly from URL:
Tonight, after we take Holy Communion, and we return home, the first thing that we eat is one is those wonderful boiled eggs that we dyed the other day.  Typically, this is what you eat to break the fast.  We suppose that is why it is such a good "break-fast" food!  The egg symbolises our new life and our new hope.  Of course, we cannot eat the egg until we play the game to see who cracks whose egg.  That's a great game!  Leave it to the Greeks to come up with such simple fun.  And, if you are smart, you would have a ceramic egg in your hand and you will always win!

We will bite into the egg first.  But, the next bite is going straight into the mageritsa.  In today's world, it seems rather odd that people still make this soup.  And, in the U.S. there are very few places that you can buy the lamb's organ meats.  In Canada, the butchers and the grocery stores sell out by Thursday, so you have to  buy them early.  

We were taught by our parents how to plan for the mageritsa, and that included buying the lamb early, and asking for the έντερα (in English, entera (en-deh-ra).  The word means "insides" and refers to the intestines.   That is what we use to make κοκορέτσι, kokoretsi (an organ meat sausage).  We decided that today we did not have enough time to make  κοκορέτσι, so we have frozen our entera until a future date.  In fact, we have been buying half a lamb, and the butcher will ask, "Do you want the head or the entera?"  And, we always choose the entera.  

We were also taught to buy σικοταριές / sikotaries (organ meats a.k.a. offal) before Holy Wednesday so the butcher does not run out.  Of course, you have two uses for these -- sausage or soup.  We chose soup.  
We were taught by our parents, how to make mageritsa, and  it is tradition in our family to come home from church and break our fast with mageritsa.  Not many people like to eat soup at 2:30 a.m., but that's when we can, that's when we will!  Some say, "Let them eat cake." We prefer, "Let us eat soup."

Now that we have been making this treat for several years without any of the parents to help, and we finally realise that it is not as difficult as we first thought.  It is a bit time consuming, but it's not that hard to do all of the steps.  This year, we made it even a little easier by using a food processor for some of our cutting.   That made the preparation so much easier and a bit faster, even though other steps took some time.  We should look at the other steps involved.

To make this soup to feed 6 - 8 people, you will need the following:

1 package Sikotaries
water (amounts vary)
2 TBSP tomato paste
1 large or 2 small bulbs anise (or fennel)
4-5 onions, medium, yellow
3 bunches scallions (green onions)
1 head of Romaine lettuce, cleaned
1/2 cup rice (par boiled)
salt, pepper

optional for avgolemono:
 4 - 6 eggs, beaten
lemon juice, to taste
salt and pepper to  taste

When making this soup, it's important that you wash everything very well, since you are dealing with organ meats.  There are several steps we take to assure the meats are fully cooked so that nobody gets sick from uncooked offal (illness from offal is awful).  Look at the collection that we got from the butcher:  

We have the lungs, kidney, heart, and liver -- all packed with iron and protein!  Cut apart the pieces where there is a natural separation, to get pieces that are manageable sizes.  Also, you can cut out the sections of fat and gristle that connect some of the organs.  

Now, wash the organ meats.  Rinse for several minutes under cold running water and just to clean off all the butcher residue.   

As the sikotaries are drying, boil some water in a large pot.  The pot needs to be large enough to hold all of the meats with some room to move.  Or, do the next couple of steps in two or three stages.  The pot of water is boiling.  Take the sikotaries and boil them in that water.  This is part of the cleaning process.  You will see the water will boil and get a foam surfacing, while the meats are starting to change colour.  That's good!  You want to see the foam, and you want the meats to change colours on the outside.  Boil the pieces for 6-8 minutes until you do not see any more blood on any of the pieces.  We're not talking about inside, but the organs will ooze a little blood naturally, so we  want to boil until that stops.

Rinse the sikotaries again under cool, running water.  Get all residue and foam off the meat, and this will cool the pieces enough to handle comfortably.  

Cut each organ into bite sized pieces.  You want small bits about 1/4 inch dice so that you get something to chew in the soup, but not too big to make it unappetising.

Set aside the cut up organ meat.  And, spend the next few minutes getting the other ingredients ready.  The onion should be diced or cut up into small pieces.  These, too, should be about 1/4 inch diced.  We chose to do this step by hand, just to control the size of the dice.  In the past, we have seen that some pieces become too small when using the food processor, and cutting by hand seemed just as easy.

Next, slice the scallions.  They can be sliced, diced, shredded, any shape -- they end up looking like a garnish in the soup  We put them in the food processor using the slicing blade, which cut the scallions so quickly, and it gave us a variety of shapes that looked pretty.

The anise bulb is next.  This is a different kind of vegetable, and if you have never worked with it before, you should know that as you cut it, the smell will fill your kitchen for a few minutes.  Cut the stem, the bulb, the fronds -- all of it.  Just remember to take out the core from the bottom.  We put this through the slicing blade, but found that the chopping blade of our food processor did a better job.  This was a little awkward with the slicing blade.  Some of the slices looked like celery, others looked like tidbits of dill.  Because of the lack of uniformity of this vegetable, you may prefer the chopping blade to reach a more consistent size and shape -- chopped.  

Lastly, cut the lettuce.  This cut is called "chiffonade" in culinary terms.  It is a thin ribbon cut.  And, you get there by lining up the lettuce leaves on the cutting board.  Then, roll them into a cigar shape -- tight or looser does not matter as long as it is cigar shaped.  Then, cut super thin slices through the lettuce cigar.  That will give you long ribbon pieces of lettuce.  If you think that the leaves are big, and you want smaller ribbons, then cut the lettuce leaf horizontally before slicing it.  This we had to do by hand instead of machine.

Now, everything is cut, washed, and ready.  

So, first, heat up some oil in a pot.  You want to pour enough oil to cover the bottom of the pot.  This might sound like a lot, but the meat has no fat on it, so you have to compensate for that as well as the vegetables.  When the oil is hot, start cooking the onions.  Season the onions with salt and pepper.

Once the onions are soft, and partially cooked, put the cut sikotaries in the pot.  Mix them all around so that everything gets coated with the oil.  Cook this until the meat is totally cooked through.  If you see any pink at all, keep cooking!  You can add a little salt and pepper to the meat.

Next, add the scallions (the green onions).  The colour looks beautiful against the brown meat and the white onions.  But, you have to then, add the tomato paste.

Mix everything in the pot, and let it cook for just a couple of minutes while the green onions become soft.  

Then, add the chopped anise.  At this point, you should get a waft of liquorice filling your nose.  Mmmm.  Enjoy that just for a minute, then mix everything together and let it cook another five minutes.

Now, add the tomato paste.  Mix well so all the ingredients are fully coated with the tomato paste.

Then, add some water.  Add enough water to fully cover the rest of the ingredients.  The contents of the pot should look like a soup, not just solids.

Cover the pot and let it come to a full rolling boil.  Then, after boiling for five minutes, bring the temperature down to low.  You now have to add the shredded romaine lettuce.  Make sure you have enough water in the pot to cover everything fully.  If you need, add a little more water so everything is covered.  And, check your salt and pepper.  

Now, check that the burner is on low to medium low and let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes.  This gives everything a chance to blend in flavours.  It also allows the lettuce to cook without becoming mush.

Then, add the rice.  You may want to add less or a little more.  We found that if you add less, the rice gets lost in the soup and it wasn't worth adding in the first place.  If you add more, the soup becomes very heavy with rice, and takes away from the sikotaries. Half a cup seemed like a good amount.  Do not make a substitution of pasta for the rice.  It is not the same.  Use rice.  

Now, add a little more water, and cover the pot.  You are going to let this simmer for a little while for the rice to fully cook.  While that is taking place, you may opt to add an avgolemono sauce to the soup (egg and lemon).  This is the time to get that ready.  

We used 5 eggs and 2 lemons, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper.  We squeezed the lemons through a juicer that would remove the pulp and the seed.  And, to make this easier for ourselves, we used a plunge hand blender to whip the eggs.  You can do this by hand, of course, we really enjoy our gadgets today.

Juice the lemons and have them set aside for a moment.  

Whip the eggs until they are frothy.  The more eggs you use, the thicker the avgolemono will be.  The fewer eggs, or if you just use the whites, the thinner the avgolemono will be.  If you use extra yolks with your eggs, you will have a very thick soup.

Pour the lemon juice into the whipped eggs.  Add a pinch of salt and pepper.  Check to see if you need more lemon or more salt.  Add what you need so that you get a bit of a pucker on your face when you taste the egg-lemon mix.  If you don't have a pucker, there is not enough lemon juice!

Next, we are going to temper the soup and avgolemono.  This means we are going to add the hot soup liquid to the egg mixture and mix like crazy so that the eggs don't cook like scrambled eggs (coagulate).  And, we are going to continue to do that until the egg mixture is hot.  Then, we are going to mix the egg mixture back into the soup, while stirring continuously so not to make scrambled egg soup.  Temper the avgolemono back into the soup and turn off the heat.  Do NOT cover the pot!  If you put a lid on the pot now, you will have curdled soup.  That's what will happen -- the steam gets trapped inside the pot and the steam will cook the soup and eggs and everything will curdle, so don't put a lid on the pot, please.

Serve this soup hot or warm.  You can serve it with a little lemon or just have it with tsoureki and a red egg.  However you enjoy it, enjoy it.  The time has come to break your fast, so enjoy.  Kali Anastasi.

Kali Anastasi.

Ανάστα ο Θεός 

Άγιος Νικόλαος Καλλιθέας