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Apr 10, 2012
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Wine With . . . Slow-Roasted Lamb Stuffed with Rice and Spinach

By Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

Since lamb is one of the culinary symbols of spring, our goal this week was to develop a recipe that isn’t too labor intensive but that will also be a great dish for red wine. We certainly love traditional garlic-scented leg of lamb, cooked to pink perfection, but this time we turn to the melt-in-the-mouth texture of slow-roasted lamb. Among the many advantages of gentle slow cooking is that seasonings get fully integrated into the meat’s own flavors. We like what Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall says about slow cooking in The River Cottage Meat Book: “Another important thing to emphasize about slow cooking it that, paradoxically, it doesn’t have to be time consuming. At least, it doesn’t have to take a lot of your time. Half an hour or less is often enough to prepare the ingredients, get them in a pot . . . Then, like the best wine, all you have to do is leave well alone for a small miracle to occur. Only in this case the job will be done in a matter of hours rather than years.”

Lamb Stuffed with Rice and Spinach

Serves 6-8

With the stuffing built right into the roast, this is virtually a one-dish meal. We served nothing more with it than delicious crusty bread, good butter, and a big, fresh green salad on the side. If you have more stuffing than you need for the lamb you can heat the extra and serve extra dollops of it too, or else save it and use for stuffing pork chops or chicken.

Kitchen string for tying the roast
1 7-10 pound leg of lamb, boned and butterflied
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
8 ounces mushrooms, coarsely chopped
About 1 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme, mint, oregano and rosemary
3 tablespoons olive oil, mixed use
8 ounces spinach, chopped
¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or cayenne pepper to taste)
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
2 cups cooked rice
Salt
About ½ cup white wine, stock or water

Salt and pepper the lamb, at least an hour before cooking and preferably the day before. Refrigerate the meat until ready to cook.
Place the onion, garlic, mushrooms and fresh herbs in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is a sort of coarse mush. Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet and add the mushroom mixture, cooking it over medium heat for about ten minutes (raise the heat to cook off excess moisture if necessary). Stir in the spinach and continue cooking until it wilts. Add the spices and the rice. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Refrigerate the mixture until ready to use.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Open up the butterflied lamb and spread the rice mixture over it, leaving about half an inch of meat around the edges uncovered. Roll the meat up as neatly as possible, holding it together with string wherever needed (don’t worry if this isn’t a particularly neat-looking job; it is still going to taste delicious).

Grease the bottom of a roasting pan with the remaining oil (if you’ve used your hand to do this, coat the outside of the roast with the excess oil. Place the lamb in the pan, pour the wine or other liquid over it, and put it in the oven. Cook for about 30 minutes, then turn the heat down to 250° and continue roasting for another three to four hours. Baste it with the cooking juices once or twice during that time, and if the pan dries out add a little more liquid. Tent the roast with foil if it seems to be getting too brown.

* * *

With its succulent texture and diverse yet balanced array of intricate flavors, this is a dish that did indeed prove to be beautifully suited for red wine. Of the dozen wines we sampled with the dish (all costing between $20 and $30) we found it challenging to narrow the field down to five favorites. In the end, we tended to rank blended reds marginally higher than the single varietal Cabernets and Merlots in our roundup, perhaps because the implied complexity of different grapes mingling together matched the varied assortment of ingredients in the dish. In any event all of our favorite wines had suppleness, ripe tannins and good length. None were excessively jammy or overtly oaky, and each of them had at least a hint of spice in its flavor profile.

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Craggy Range, “Te Kahu,” Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec

Hawkes Bay (New Zealand) 2009

(Imported by Kobrand)

$22

“Te Kahu” is a notably lush yet beautifully structured wine. In addition to its rich, black fruit flavors, the suggestion of spice in this elegant red blend connects in a very savory way with the herbs in the stuffing.

Ghost Pines

Red Blend, Napa, Sonoma and San Joaquin Counties (California) 2009

$20

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Merlot, Ghost Pines’s red blend has smooth, ripe tannins that are well suited to the meaty richness of lamb. Based on taste alone, you’d expect to pay more than $20 for this very classy wine.

Perrin & Fils, Gigondas “La Gille” Rhône Valley (France)2009

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$30

The mouth-wateringly earthy, almost feral quality inherent in certain reds from the Southern Rhône is part of the appeal of “La Gille.” Balancing power with charm, this lively wine tastes so much of its own place that it even made the dish taste French.

Sobon Estate, Zinfandel “Lubenko Vineyard” Fiddletown (California) 2009

$22

With silky-smooth tannins, ripe cherry fruit, oaky spice, and a dash of Petite Syrah for added depth, this Zinfandel seemed to add a chutney-like sweet-tangy component to the lamb.

Torres, “Celeste” Crianza Ribera del Duero (Spain) 2008

(Imported by Dreyfus Ashby)

$24

The richness and complexity of this dark and delicious Spanish wine synchronized beautifully with the equally multifaceted flavors of the dish. For all its depth of flavor the wine never felt heavy on the palate. A lingering oak-spiced finish was another plus.