Agneau aux Poires Tapées or Lamb with Dried Pears
I'm saddened by the permanent loss of so many restaurants in the last year. I don't normally cook restaurant-style dishes. I'm too incompetent for that. But occasionally nostalgia gets the better of me and I try to recreate something I've enjoyed.
This dish is based (loosely) on one that I ate in a restaurant overlooking a vineyard near Chinon many years ago. I'd just come across poires tapées and I wanted to try anything made with that local speciality. This dish isn't difficult to put together (the sauce and celeriac accompaniment can be prepared in advance) but if you want to get the flavours just right or impress someone special, then there are one or two details here that are worth taking trouble over.
I'm not going to attempt to give a scholarly history of the poire tapée because there are plenty of people far better qualified than I to do that. Very briefly, they're pears dried in wood-fired ovens which are then pressed flat and end up delicious. If you can't lay your hands on genuine poires tapées, then you can make a perfectly fine version of this dish using a few good quality dried pears.
If you want the original Loire valley taste, then the wine in this recipe should be a Chinon or maybe a Bourgueil, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil or Saumur-Champigny; in other words, a Loire valley wine made from the Cabernet Franc grape. Outside of France they can be expensive and you could use a different wine. These Loire reds have a slightly savoury quality and aren't usually too tannic (especially in Chinon), so choose a lighter style that's fruity rather than floral.
This will serve 2.
4 - 6 poires tapées or dried pears
400 ml red wine (see above for the type)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 large sprig of thyme
1 bay leaf
300 ml lamb stock (you could use a chicken stock if that's what you have)
2 lamb leg steaks (on the bone, preferably), at room temperature
A knob or two of cold butter
300 - 400 g (prepared weight) celeriac, peeled and cut into chunks
First prepare the pears
The size of dried pears varies quite a lot. You'll need at least 4 but in the UK smaller pears are often chosen for drying and so use 6 if you're in any doubt. British dried pears are often partly rehydrated and will only need to be lightly poached before making this dish. If you get hold of dried poires tapées, then they will need rehydrating overnight in the wine before lightly poaching. If you come across rehydrated poire tapée (in red wine would be ideal), then they should be fine to poach straight from the jar.
Whether you soaked them overnight or not, place the pears and the wine in a pan, cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently for around 20 minutes. The time needed to soften the pears will vary, so keep an eye on them; they should be very soft but not completely collapsed. Take off the heat, remove the pears but DON'T throw away the poaching wine. Chop the pears roughly, keeping the chunks quite large. Set the pears and wine aside separately to cool.
Now create the sauce
Soften the shallot slowly in a little oil without colouring. Once soft, add the wine vinegar to the pan, increase the heat and reduce until the vinegar has all but disappeared. Pour in the wine that you used to poach the pears, the thyme, the bay leaf, stock and a little seasoning. Turn up the heat and reduce by about a half. Strain through a sieve, squeezing the contents of the sieve to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the remnants of herbs and shallot left in the sieve. Set the sauce aside to cool.
Prepare the celeriac accompaniment
Steam the celeriac chunks until soft but not falling apart. Put into a food processor (or use a vegetable mouli) with half of the poached pear pieces and some salt and pepper. You could add a touch of butter too if you prefer a richer result. Process until smooth or, at least, reasonably smooth. Pass the purée through a sieve. (I know this is a faff, but, if you have the time, it will ensure that the purée is just right). Set aside.
Finally cook the lamb and put the whole thing together
Season the lamb steaks and fry over a moderate heat using a little oil until done to your liking. It's difficult to be precise about timing because the thickness of the steaks will vary as will how you like your lamb but, for the average steaks you get from supermarkets, 8 - 10 minutes should be plenty, turning once. Add a little butter towards the end of the cooking time to enrich the flavour a tad. Leave the steaks to rest somewhere warm while you reheat the sauce and the celeriac.
When you're ready to serve, whisk a little cold butter into the sauce and stir in the remaining pieces of poached pear. Add quenelles (or dollops, depending on how you feel) of the celeriac and pear purée to the warmed plates along with the lamb and top with the sauce. Some simple green veg is probably all you'll need alongside.
Not surprisingly, a glass of lightly chilled Chinon would go down well with this dish. Actually, a glass would go down well without this dish right now if you're offering me some.