Simon Hopkinson is currently an author and TV chef but it was not always so. Before TV, he was the chef at Terence Conran’s Bibendum on Fulham Road in London’s Chelsea district. This was job came to a crashing close with a nervous breakdown during a Saturday service that led Hopkinson to never set foot in a professional kitchen again.
Prior to Bibendum, Hopkinson was cheffing for Yves Champeau in a Michelin-starred restaurant located (improbably) in his home town of Bury, Lancashire.
Typical of Simon Hopkinson, this dish of lamb breast with onions is a synthesis of French technique and Lancashire ingredients. The fricassée and cartouche are 100% French, but the white pepper and onions come from a time when nobody in England owned a pepper grinder, and all pepper was sold as the white variety, preground in pots.
If there is one tip to getting this dish right is that you need you ignore the onion quantity for anything than the exact right pot and the exact right joint size. You may need more onions because you really do need to cover the lamb with the vegetables completely to an even layer to ensure you get enough cooking juices to make a sauce and to braise the meat.
You can watch Simon Hopkinson make this dish here:
Breast of lamb baked with onions
- 1.6kg lamb or hogget breast, boned, rolled and tied with string
- Fine salt and freshly ground white pepper
- 2 tbsp dripping or vegetable oil
- 1.6kg onions, thinly sliced (enough to completely cover the meat – see article above)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 2–3 tbsp anchovy essence (or several finely chopped anchovies), or to taste
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Preheat the oven to 150˚C.
Season the lamb with salt and freshly ground white pepper. Melt the dripping or oil in a large, lidded, roomy casserole dish until hot. Place the lamb breast into the dish, turn down the heat and colour well on all sides until golden-brown. Lift out the meat and remove all fat from the dish with a spoon.
Add half of the onions to make a bed on which to rest the lamb. Add the lamb back into to the dish. Tuck in the bay leaf and cover with the remaining onions.
Cut a circle of greaseproof paper slightly bigger than the diameter of the dish. Dampen it, lightly grease one side, and press it onto the onions (greased side down). Put on the lid cook in the oven for about three hours. After an hour, remove the dish to see whether the onion mixture has reduced and to check that the natural juices are running. Scrape down the side of the dish if the onions have stuck. Replace the paper and lid and place the dish into the oven again.
After about three hours of cooking (check after another hour), push a skewer into the lamb to see how tender it is; there should be little resistance. Lift out the meat, put it into a small roasting tin and cover with foil. Turn down the oven to 140˚C, and return the meat to the oven while you finish the onions.
Remove the bay leaf from the onions and drain the onions, reserving the cooking juices. Put the onions back into the casserole. Remove any fat that has settled on the surface of the cooking juices. Pour the liquid back in with the onions, and simmer until the volume of liquid has reduced by half. Stir in the vinegar and anchovy essence.
Season the onions to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Finally, stir in the parsley.
Remove the lamb from the oven (if any meaty juices have exuded from the resting lamb, add them to the onions), cut off the strings and thickly slice the meat. Arrange the slices onto a hot serving dish and pile the onions alongside.
Anchovy essence can be made by simmering equal (volumetric) quantities of minced anchovies, red wine vinegar, water, lemon juice, plus a big pinch of cayenne pepper for about 15 mins. Cool and strain. You need a tiny pan for this, like a Mauviel Mini.