I came up with this recipe to remind myself that I really do love Spain and the Spanish, in spite of their banking bureaucracy. I recently spent three days online and on the ‘phone trying to complete the anti-money laundering paperwork for our Spanish account, only to be told that I will have to pop into a branch. In Spain. ¡Ay, caramba! I live in the UK.
Lamb belly – or breast of lamb as it is sometimes known – is an economical cut but one that many people find too fatty. A lot of the fat is cooked out in the browning process here but in an ideal world you’d make the dish the day before, put it in the fridge and skim off any remaining fat when it was cold. Or do as I did and just blot the surface with some kitchen roll.
This tastes much better than I’m making it sound. Meltingly soft and very tasty: trust me, I’m a journalist. Well, at least I’m not a banker.
Spanish-style Lamb Belly
1 boned lamb belly, about 1.5 kg
A sprig or two of thyme, leaves picked from the stems
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled
1/2 tspn sweet smoked paprika
1/4 tspn sea salt
A dash of oil and a knob of butter, for frying
2 large onions, peeled and sliced into half moons
1 large red or yellow pepper, de-seeded and cut into chunks
4″ or 5″ piece of chorizo, skinned and sliced (or a heaped tspn of Spanish paprika)
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
A quantity of chicken stock
1 x 400g tin of haricot beans, butter beans or chickpeas
A handful of chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas Mark 2.
Crush the garlic with the 1/4 tspn of sea salt and add the 1/2 tspn of paprika.
If your meat is already rolled, unroll it and trim any fat and skinny bits that you can without compromising the rectangular shape. Smear the flesh side with the garlic paste, scatter with the thyme leaves and re-roll it tightly, starting at the thin end. Tie tightly with string.
Heat the butter and oil in a casserole large enough to hold all the ingredients and brown the meat all over.
Remove the lamb and discard all the fat in the pan. Now add the chorizo, if using, and fry so it releases some of its oil. Remove, blot on kitchen paper and set aside.
Wipe out the pan and put a good half of the onions in the bottom, mixed with the chopped tomatoes, pepper and chorizo. Season with a little salt and pepper. Nestle the lamb in the middle and top with the remaining onions. Add enough chicken stock to come halfway up the meat.
Put a piece of kitchen foil over the top and clamp the lid on that. Cook for three hours or until a knife poked into the lamb meets little resistance. Remove the lamb and keep warm, covered in foil.
Cook the sauce at a fast boil until it has reduced and intensified, then add the rinsed and drained beans or chickpeas and heat through gently. Check the seasoning and stir in a handful of chopped parsley.
Scoop into soup plates and serve the meat on top, sliced into thick rounds.