For my birthday, a friend of mine gave me an amazing cookbook by Rachel Khoo called My Little French Kitchen. I’ve been wrapped up in her delicious recipes, bright photos, and lovely stories about exploring regional french cuisine as she travels all around France! Ugh…Tough job, I know. I try not to get too bitter at the picturesque seaside photos around Normandy and the nonstop lavender fields of Provance…especially when my fingers are numb by just driving my car to work. Spring needs to come quickly.
As we say goodbye to winter, I am still cooking up stews and comfort meals. This cookbook offers plenty of that as well. There is a wonderful section in her book about Alsace, a northeastern region of France, bordering Germany. The recipes in this section are hearty, winter-loving, comfort foods. One of my favorite recipes in the Alsace region of her book is called Baeckeoffe or “Baker’s Oven Stew”. The history behind the stew refers to a time when french women would often bring this casserole to the baker in the morning on their way to the river to wash their clothes. The baker would bake it in the coolest part of the oven all day. The women would then pick up the baked stew and a loaf of bread for dinner on their way home. Hence the name Baeckeoffe or literally Baker’s Oven.
As I started thinking more and more about that story, I couldn’t help but feel so sorry for those poor women. Those women had to lug that huuuuge cast iron casserole pot full of meat and wine to the baker’s shop PLUS haul their whole families’ stinky laundry to the river in the winter! Then they spent all day doing laundry in a cold river. They then had to pick up a fiery hot casserole and hoped that they wouldn’t drop it or get on their newly cleaned clothes. Hmm…Makes my issues seem pretty petty.
The original recipe used several different cuts of beef (oxtail and beef cheeks) and none of the spices that I mention below. Buuuuut I had a leg of lamb staring me down in my freezer that needed to be used. So there. I decided to adapt the recipe by using lamb and several warming spices such as cinnamon, coriander, cumin, and smoked paprika. These spices pair very well with lamb. It gave the stew a hearty and warm balance. If you don’t have lamb, you can sub out a 3-pound chuck roast and leave out the cinnamon and coriander. This stew is so easy and can be easily adjusted for whatever you have on hand. Don’t have red wine? Use white. Don’t have white? Use chicken or beef stock. Seriously… this is like the compost of all stews. And yet it comes out like magic.
Oh and let’s talk about that lovely top, shall we? It is just a butternut squash and a sweet potato that have been thinly sliced and layered around like a flower petal. It’s quite a treat to take the top off of this stew when it is done and see that beautiful rose and smell the amazingness that wafts out. Just think of it as your winter flower.
Baked Lamb Stew
- 3 lbs lamb shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
- 1 1/2 cups dry red wine
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 medium carrots
- 28 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 2 cups water
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into thin slices
- 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into thin slices
- Place the lamb in a large glass bowl or baking dish and toss with the cinnamon, coriander, cumin, smoked paprika, salt, garlic, and pepper. Use your hands to massage the seasonings into the lamb meat. Pour the wine over the meat so that it is submerged. Cover with plastic wrap or a lid and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours (and up to 24 hours).
- When ready to cook the stew, preheat the oven to 325F. Remove the marinated lamb from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cook time.
- In a large 6 to 8-quart Dutch oven, add lamb and marinade, onions, carrots, tomatoes with juice, water, bay leaves, and parsley. Stir and bring to a gentle boil. Remove from heat.
- Neatly and tightly place thin slices of squash and potato around the edge of the pot. The layers will begin to look like flower petals as shown in the above pictures. Continue layering the slices and lay them over the top of the stew until it is covered. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Place a sheet of parchment paper on top of the stew and then place the lid on top. Bake in the preheated oven for 3 to 4 hours, until the lamb is tender. Remove the lid and parchment paper. Increase the heat to 450 F and bake for 5 to 10 minutes to crisp the top. Serve immediately.
Notes – you can easily use a 3-pound chuck roast in this recipe instead of lamb.