Friday, April 2, 2010

Easter dinner

Ham is traditional for Easter where I grew up, but one spring I remember a friend of mine asking if gentiles served ham for Easter dinner as an impromptu religious test. I find that I usually serve lamb on Easter, not because I keep kosher -- far from it -- but rather because lamb has a fun aura of ecclesiastical correctness.

The other problem with ham is logistical: if you buy a fresh ham so you can have the fun of cooking it yourself, you have a lot of damn ham. Dave and I were given a country ham (ham preserved in what must be an equal weight of salt, for those of you unfamiliar with it) for Christmas many years ago. It was delicious. It was also about the size of a toddler, and by March we were desperate. They don't go bad, and you only want about an ounce at a time because it's so salty. So they last, and last, and last.

We have been very conservative ham buyers since then.

Lamb is tricky in its own right, though. I tend to like lamb very thoroughly cooked, and I horrify sensible friends by eating steak tartare. It's the membranes running through the meat that turn me off. So here's how I cook it:

The day before you plan to eat it, soak and cook some white beans. I go for cannellini, but navy beans work fine too. Buy a lamb roast -- I've used leg, shoulder, and shank, depending on how many people I'm cooking for -- and season it.

The next morning, chop some odori (an onion, a smallish celery rib, and a clove or two of garlic) and line the bottom of a baking dish with them. Add the lamb, some white wine, and a bottle of strained tomatoes. Cover this tightly and leave it in a slow oven for four hours. At that point, check that the lamb isn't drying out, add more wine if necessary, and add the beans. Re-cover the dish and pop it back in the oven. Give it another two hours; it can hold for longer if you need it to.

Serve this with a green salad, adding if possible some nice fresh dandelion leaves from your yard to give it an astringent feel.


The Goyim on Their Home Turf: Easter Weekend

Good Friday is traditionally a fast day, and this year we are having fish. I'm not sure if a beautiful fish baked with potatoes, white wine, and herbs really counts as penitential food -- any more than the organic, whole-wheat matzoh we had Tuesday night really counts as the bread of affliction -- but it sure tastes good. This is how you cook it:

Get a cleaned fish. Bass, flounder, and trout all work quite well, though anything that looks good and is about the right size would be fine. I usually get a fish that's a little over a pound for the two adults and two small children in my house, though we once took on a beautiful three-pound flounder and left no scrap. Cut up and parboil some potatoes in salted water. Season the fish's cavity and insert the flavoring of your choice: fresh rosemary, thyme, and lemon slices have all served us well in the past.

Arrange the drained, parboiled potatoes around the fish in a lightly oiled roasting pan and drizzle a little extra olive oil over the lot. Splash a little white wine in the pan and bake in a medium-hot oven until done. I start checking after about 15 minutes, though it usually needs more like 30. Big, thick fish can apparently take an hour; I'm partial to the small ones myself so have never tried it.

When the fish is done, prepare it for serving by lifting and removing the skin on the top side of the fish and removing the filets to plates. Run a knife under the vertebrae and lift out the spinal column (it is best to banish the squeamish from the kitchen around now), then remove the bottom filets. Don't forget the tasty, winy pan juices, which will be your sauce!

I like to serve this with bitter greens. This year we're having an ecclesiastically appropriate passion fruit cream for dessert: the pulp of two passion fruit whisked lightly into about a half cup of heavy cream, with a scant teaspoon of vanilla sugar thrown in to balance it.