Usually I first pick a dish and then the wine, but for the antipasto for this year’s Christmas dinner I did it the other way around. A friend of ours had brought a sparkling red from the Loire region, made from cabernet franc. I thought it would be great with the ham of lamb that I made last year, when paired with some salt-roasted beetroot. This way of preparing beetroot concentrates the flavor without making the beets too salty.
I prepared the ham of lamb slightly differently, as I brined it rather than cured it and cooked it bone-in. Although I haven’t tasted them side by side, I don’t think I could detect much difference with last year’s version. The salt-roasted beetroot was great, and it all worked out as planned: the combination of the beetroot, ham of lamb, and the sparkling red wine was wonderful. Here’s what I did.
one leg of lamb or part thereof, bone-in (I used the lower part of the leg of about 900 grams, 2 lbs)
salt and sugar for the brine
2 Tbsp sawdust for smoking
as much coarse sea salt as needed to cover them
freshly grated horseradish for garnish
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar ‘tradizionale’ (the expensive stuff)
I like using an equilibrium brine. This means that the amount of salt is calculated such that you will end up with the desired level of saltiness. When using a very salty brine, the brining time will determine how salty it will become. With an equilibrium brine, if you wait long enough, the equilibrium will be reached and the amount of salt will be the calculated amount.
I wanted to have a saltiness of 1% by weight. With about 800 grams of lamb (estimated weight without the bone) and 2060 grams of water, 1% of that is 28 grams of salt.
I allowed the lamb to smoke for 15 minutes. You could now finish the lamb in an oven at 160ºC/325ºF until the core temperature reaches 55ºC/131ºF. Instead I wanted to finish the lamb sous-vide, so I let it cool off to room temperature.
Meanwhile, it was time to start thinking about the beets. I preheated the oven to 190ºC/375ºF (with fan). I trimmed the beets, but didn’t peel them, and arranged them in an oven dish on top of a layer of coarse sea salt.
I roasted the beets in the oven at 190ºC/375ºF (with fan) for 75 minutes or until they were tender (when pierced with a fork). I allowed them to cool before breaking open the salt crust that had formed.
I served the sliced ham of lamb with the salt-roasted mini beetroot. I drizzled everything with good extra virgin olive oil and the beetroot also with good balsamic. I garnished the beetroot with freshly grated horseradish.
The wine that was the inspiration for this dish was this sparkling red from Loire made from cabernet franc. If you can’t find something similar, a rosé champagne or ligth red would also be an excellent combination.