Almost every day since 2014, I’ve followed a morning ritual before getting down to the business of cooking: walking along the main drive, then skirting around the castle alongside the moat, I feast my eyes on it all. I look over to my left at the kitchen garden and greet the estate gardener Yves, who’s never far from here. Then I take the stairs, decorated with hunting trophies, and take stock of this place, which could be a stage set were it not so legendary. Walking past masterpieces and family photos to get to the kitchen, I stop to discuss forthcoming receptions with Virginie and Emmanuel [Cruse, owners of Château d’Issan]. Then I start setting up with Alexandra, the hospitality manager, who’s beginning to assemble Issan’s famous blue tableware. I make sure that, in addition to dealing with the thousand other things for which she’s responsible, Clarisse, the estate’s Jill of all trades, will be able to produce the customised table menus for the next reception. It’s now 8.30am.
If it’s an autumn morning, I’ll be pondering the grape harvesters’ lunch; if a winter morning, I’ll be thinking about Yves, who’ll soon be bringing back a hare from the hunt that we’ll turn into a sublime lièvre à la royale; if it’s a spring morning, I’ll make time to take the vineyard workers some brioche pain perdu; if it’s a summer morning, I’ll make mille-feuilles with raspberries from the kitchen garden, which Virginie loves, and distribute them to the office staff for tea.
Moments like these, when we take a pause in our busy days to share a simple pleasure, are priceless. At Issan, the days go by, each one different from the last, causing us to be curious and inventive; to question our knowledge and skills and listen to the seasons, the local produce, fruit, vegetables and game; to take note of what’s happening elsewhere, in the countries of origin of the international clientele that the Château d’Issan welcomes at its table; and to develop a cuisine that bears no resemblance to anyone else’s, but that speaks to everyone.
Buy the book The Four Seasons of Château d’Issan directly from Château d’Issan
Slow cooked lamb: The recipe
At Château d’Issan, we source our lamb from the Pyrenees in the southwest of France. Slow-cooking this dish in a casserole in the oven is less risky than cooking on the hob, where it would be more at risk of burning over the course of the seven hours required.
Preparation time 1 hour
Cooking time 7 hours
- 1 leg of lamb (about 2.5kg)
- 50g unsalted butter
- 100ml grapeseed oil
- 500g carrots, peeled and sliced 500g onions, sliced
- 5 garlic cloves, sliced 80g plain flour
- 2 tbsp honey
- 500ml water
- 2 litres red wine
- 1 litre veal stock
- 2 tbsp redcurrant jelly (optional)
- fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F/gas mark 2).
2. Season the leg of lamb with salt and pepper, then in a cast-iron casserole dish on the hob sauté in the butter and oil for 5 minutes on each side.
3. Add the carrots, onions and garlic to the casserole dish with the lamb.
4. Sprinkle lightly with the flour, then add the honey, water, red wine and veal stock and stir. Bring to the boil, skimming off the scum that rises to the surface using a small ladle.
5. Transfer the dish to the oven to cook.
6. After 7 hours, remove from the oven. The meat will have become very tender. Take the meat out of the casserole and allow to rest while you perform the last step.
7. Reduce the gravy on the hob, but don’t strain it if you want to keep the vegetables. Test it for its acidity: if necessary, add some redcurrant jelly to sweeten it. Adjust seasoning if needed.
8. Serve the whole leg of lamb with grilled vegetables, if you wish. Pour over the red wine gravy.
Frédéric Braud is head chef at Château d’Issan. Château d’Issan’s cookbook, The Four Seasons of Château d’Issan, is available directly from the château at a cost of €30 plus shipping: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wines to match with slow cooked lamb
Margaux is a great match with slow-cooked lamb, because the texture and precision of the tannins in wine from this appellation complement the finesse of the lamb.
The Syrah wines of the northern Rhône appellation of Crozes-Hermitage are a great alternative match for slow- cooked lamb. The best wines from the commune have a beautiful structure, density and elegance that work superbly with this lamb dish.