Digging Up Vintage Recipes |

Act III: Lamb Roast with Plums and Red Wine Sauce


Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

Haudus sive agnum Particum: mittes in turnum; teres piper rutam cepam satureiam damascena enucleata laseris modicum vinum liquamen et oleum. feruens colluitur in disco, ex aceto sumitur.
– Apicius, De Re Coquinaria VIII.vi.10

Translation: Parthian kid or lamb: Put it in the oven. Grind together pepper, rue, onion, savory, pitted, damsons, laser, wine, fish sauce, and oil. Douse the meat in boiling sauce, and serve it with vinegar.


The plums in this lamb recipe immediately leapt out at me as I was flipping through my Roman cookery book: I love meat cooked with fruit. I was not able to find Damson plums, but I did come up with some pretty little prune plums at one of my local groceries. As mentioned in previous posts, I’d been unable to find rue or savory in my neighborhood. To keep things modern, but in the Roman flavor profile, I used a rub for my roast – ground coriander along with salt and pepper – instead of putting all spices in a sauce. The laser called for above refers to a now-extinct plant called silphium, or to the spice asafoetida: I took a short-cut here and used garlic. I also opted not to use garlic: since Roman wine was sweeter than ours, I figured a bottle of Cabernet would split the difference nicely.

Finally, apologies: as all of you hosts and hostesses know, timing a lamb roast in a dinner party can be tricky. I didn’t get pretty process shots to put in this post, but if you’d like to check a few out, I have a Flickr set for the whole dinner. The final recipe, while not wholly faithful to Apicius, was flavorful and amazing: a perfect springtime dinner party dish.

Parthian Lamb (Serves 8-9)
3 lb. boneless leg of lamb
16 prune plums, halved and stoned
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground pepper
3 whole cloves garlic
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
3/4 c. fruity red wine (like California Cabernet)

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Mix the coriander, pepper, and salt together, and rub the leg of lamb with the spices. Place it in a roasting pan and pack in the onion and garlic.
2. Roast the lamb at 425 for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, place the plums in the pan, and cook for about 40 minutes. The best way to assess whether a roast is done is to take its internal temperature: 130 degrees is rare, 140-150 medium.
3. Remove the roast from the oven, place it on a carving board, cover it with foil, and let it rest for 20 minutes.
4. While the lamb is resting, make your sauce. If you have a metal pan, deglaze it over low heat with 1/4 cup of the wine, then pour the plums, garlic, onion, and resulting liquid into a medium saucepan and add the rest of the wine. Otherwise, just pour the cooking fat and fruit straight into the pan and add all the wine. Bring the sauce to a low boil and let it bind and reduce for about 5 minutes, and season if necessary with salt and pepper. Carve the lamb, pour the still-hot sauce over it, and serve.