This is my revisionist version of Paula Wolfert's famous spoon lamb recipe. The original was too labor-intensive for my lazy bones and called for pricey dessert wine, whose flavor I successfully duplicate, for cooking purposes, with white wine, wildflower honey and orange zest. The dish takes one half hour max to put together, then cooks unattended for, truly, seven hours, until it is tender enough to eat with a spoon. It's the perfect no fuss, make-ahead dinner party dish that elicits both sighs and raves. It would make a great alt-Thanksgiving dinner.
This dish yields over 3 cups of rich juices, a kind of concentrated lamb consomme that is a treasure; heat some in a small saucepan and float raviolis or tortellinis in it, for a divine supper. Use it to reheat shredded leftover lamb in the days to follow to forge quick meals: spoon it over crushed new potatoes, use it as a taco filling or toss with cooked pasta, along with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino.
Serves 6 to 8 with leftovers
• One 5 to 6 pound leg of lamb tied (have the butcher trim off the shank bone trimmed) OR a boneless lamb shoulder, about 5 pounds, tied into a compact bundle
• 5 heads garlic
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1/4 cup Cognac or Armagnac
• 1/3 cup dry white wine
• 2 tablespoons wildflower honey
• 1 or 2 strips orange zest
• 2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme
A few hours before cooking the lamb, rub it with the Kosher salt. Place on a platter uncovered in the fridge to marinate. Meanwhile, break apart and separate the cloves, pulling off any extraneous papery skin; don't peel unless you want to.
Heat the oil in a large heavy flameproof casserole (enamel on cast-iron is perfect), over moderate heat. Pat the lamb dry and brown to golden, about 5 minutes per side, 20 minutes total. Pour off fat and add the Cognac. Tilt the pan to ignite, taking care to stand back. When the flames have died out, add the white wine, honey, orange zest, thyme and the garlic cloves. Cover with a sheet of foil and press the lid down to seal. Roast in a preheated 200' oven, until the lamb is fork tender, about 7 hours, turning the lamb once halfway through.
Transfer the lamb to a platter and cover with the foil. Pour the juices into a cup and skim off the fat. To give the juices a more concentrated flavor, pour into a heavy saucepan and simmer until reduced by about one quarter, or the flavor is right. Pull the meat apart or slice it against the grain and arrange on a platter. Pour some of the juices over and pass the rest.