This recipe features a leg of lamb roasted on a tripod over an outdoor fire pit. The fire pit can be easily constructed. Ideally, the pit will be one to two feet deep with earth or other sides to keep in the heat. Build a large fire of hardwood and charcoal. The smoke from fruit wood, such as apple or cherry, will add additional flavor. Continue feeding the fire for about three hours before cooking, so that you develop a deep bed of hot, glowing embers. The leg should be basted about every 15 minutes throughout the cooking process. The surface should not be allowed to burn while it develops a consistently dark, rich glaze. Alternately, the lamb leg can be slowly roasted in the oven.
The Buddha’s hand used in this recipe is a type of citron. It has a sweet, lemon blossom aroma and has no juice or pulp. The pith is not bitter, so the fruit can be zested or used in its entirety.
Tripod-Roasted Lamb Leg
by Chef Ben Spangler
1 shallot, minced
1 ounce tarragon, chopped
1 ounce parsley, chopped
3 Thai chili peppers, sliced
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon oregano
zest from 1 Buddha’s hand citron or zest from 3 lemons
2 ounces red wine vinegar
1 acorn or other squash
1½ cups chestnuts
1 head garlic (optional)
4 sprigs rosemary, chopped
1 small bunch thyme
1 whole leg of lamb with shank
¼ cup ricotta cheese
1 ounce micro greens
Salt and pepper
- For the brine, add 4 tablespoons of salt, the minced shallot, the chopped tarragon and parsley, the sliced Thai chilis, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, and 1 tablespoon oregano to a one cup measure. Fill the cup with water.
- Slice acorn squash ¼″ thick. Score each chestnut without cutting into the flesh.
- Shell garlic and chop into small chunks.
- Roughly chop the rosemary and thyme.
- Make shallow diagonal slits across the leg of lamb, and then slit in the other direction in a crosshatch pattern.
- Rub generously with salt and pepper.
- Insert garlic cloves (optional), rosemary, and thyme sprigs into slits.
- Lightly dust roast with oregano and cayenne pepper.
- Use a large meat hook to pierce through the top half of the shankbone and two muscles to ensure a strong hold.
Roasting on the Tripod:
- Hang the roast on the tripod over the fire.
- Make certain coal or wood is evenly distributed and not too hot, as leg needs to roast slowly.
- Add coals as necessary.
- Spatter the roast with brine every 20 minutes, a few teaspoonfuls at a time on all sides.
- Rotate the roast, if possible.
- Roast the chestnuts until they crack open (about 15-20 minutes), while turning to prevent burning.
- Pan-roast slices of acorn squash on low heat until cooked through. Reserve.
- When lamb leg reaches 120-130⁰F in the center of the muscle, remove from heat.
Roasting in the oven:
If using an oven, cover the roast with foil and roast at a low temperature. At the end, turn the oven to high for 10 minutes to brown and crisp the surface of the lamb.
Finishing and Serving:
- Serve straight from the fire. The outside of the leg will be more well done than the inside. Be sure to use a meat thermometer to determine that the meat is cooked to the desired level of doneness.
- Flash-heat squash slices in a hot pan before plating.
- Arrange squash on plates and season with oil, salt and pepper.
- Garnish with ricotta cheese, micro greens, red wine vinegar, zested Buddha’s hand and roasted chestnuts.
- Thinly slice lamb.
- Drizzle each serving with ½ teaspoon of brine.
Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email email@example.com.
The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.
Banh Chao Quay from Ha Tien
The Banh Chao Quay at Ha Tien, a Vietnamese-by-way-of-St. Paul spin on a classic Chinese doughnut, is a modern miracle. Graced with a lightly crisp exterior and a chewy, tender interior that directly recall a classic beignet, this pastry — plus a bit of powdered sugar and some coffee — would make a lovely breakfast for three to four people, for $1.59. And it’s kind of marvelous to look at, too.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from Instagram by James Norton]
Crispy Shrimp with Sticky Rice by PinKU via Local Crate
We didn’t know how close we’d come to a PinKU dish when we started making this Local Crate Crispy Shrimp with Sticky Rice meal. Despite being developed in conjunction with the restaurant, a recipe can lose quite a bit in translation. But by the time we were done grating radishes and frying shrimp, we had a spot-on rendition of one of the most craveable entries in the realm, a harmonious mix of tender rice, lightly crunchy shrimp, spicy mayo, scallions, and black sesame seeds. Now to reverse engineer this sucker so it’s available whenever we want it.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from Instagram by James Norton]
Szechuan Chicken Dumplings at Tea House
We’ve raved up the best-in-the-metro kung pao at Tea House before, but on a recent return trip, it was the house-made Szechuan Chicken Dumplings that won our hearts. Tender and delicate with a pronounced but balanced lingering heat (plus a Szechuan peppercorn buzz) and complemented by green onions, these are easily among the tastiest dumplings in a city full of them. Along with Hong Kong Noodle, Tea House has shot to the top of our chart for Chinese-American food.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #3 | Submitted from Instagram by James Norton]
Cubano at the Red River Kitchen at City House
Red River’s Cubano is excellent, and a pretty traditional version of the sandwich. Ham and shredded pork combine harmoniously with melted Swiss cheese, subtle mustard, and fresh pickles, all of which are surrounded by the crunchy pressed halves (buttered and browned on all sides) of a roll. Good Cubanos are hard to find, and this one is exemplary.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a review by Ted Held]
Joia Spirit Greyhound
The new canned cocktails by Joia, makers of subtle, beautifully mixable local soda, are a light-on-their-feet tour de force — well balanced and easy to sip. Our favorite was the Greyhound, which expressed its grapefruit content mostly through aroma as opposed to an aggressive citric bite. Its finish was a mellow whisper of chamomile. And while the box touts cardamom, it’s only subtly present, and definitely not out of balance.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a review by James Norton]
If you walk to Red River Kitchen at City House (at 258 Mill Street) from Downtown St. Paul, consider it a self-guided tour of the past and present of “the most livable city in America,” culminating at a historic and picturesque site that you (maybe) never knew existed. And then eat delicious food.
Walk past the under-restoration Palace Theater, with its optimistic signs promising a 2016 reopening. See Mickey’s Diner and the mysterious Original Coney Island Tavern, which was most recently open for two days in February 2016. Pass through Rice Park on your way to the Science Museum, where you’ll take the elevator (no admission necessary) to the Mississippi River flood plain. A short distance away, you’ll see your destination: a decommissioned grain elevator, known as City House, poking its tower up from behind some recently completed apartment buildings. Cross the tracks and Shepard Road, pass the fountains that look like the uprights of a collapsed bridge, and turn right when you get to the path next to the river. You’ll see the Red River Kitchen trailer (mostly blue and parked next to the Mississippi River) up ahead.
The setting is stunning. The grain elevator’s cavernous warehouse has been faithfully restored. Glass garage doors blur the line between indoors and outdoors and offer Instagram-worthy views of the Mighty Miss and Harriet Island across the way. Gigantic ferns hang from the rafters over high-top and picnic tables. About half the warehouse is reserved for games — beanbag toss sits out all day and other games come out to play in the evening. Signage explains the history and workings of the place and is well worth reading. Because this is parkland and water flows nearby, the place is vaguely reminiscent of Sea Salt at Minnehaha Park.
Brought to you by Matty O’Reilly of Republic and JD Fratzke (chef / owner of Strip Club Meat and Fish and Saint Dinette), the endeavor began (prior to Fratzke’s involvement) a few summers ago as a food truck. It’s named for an ox-cart trail that ran from Winnipeg (hence the Red River) to the Twin Cities. There is a kitchen in the warehouse, but it is used mostly for prep. Everything you order comes out of the trailer. City House is on the flood plain of the Mississppi, so if the water rises, they can just hitch up the kitchen and drive away.
This permanently parked mobile kitchen is sending out some good food. We tried the Kielbasa ($9) with kimchee on a brat bun. The fluffy griddled bun and the toothsome dog were well matched, but the kimchee felt out of place. It was funky, sour, and flavorful, as good kimchee is, but it overwhelmed the affair.
Tacos with mahi mahi ($7 for two) were a solid selection, especially for the price. Single corn tortillas cradled fingers of grilled fish topped with pineapple salsa with roasted corn, onion, and pepper. The tortilla brought charred flavor, the fish was meaty, and the salsa added tropical sweetness.
In our confusing modern world of overproofed bourbons and 10 percent ABV craft beers, there’s always some room on the bottom of the ladder for drinks that combine flavor and just a delicate wallop of alcohol. Thus, the recent introduction of Joia Spirit, an effort on the part of Minnesota-made Joia All Natural Soda (always a favorite of local bartenders) to cut out the middleman and present premixed Joia soda + alcohol cocktails of a reasonable proof.
On the whole, these sparkling, vodka-based canned cocktails are light on their feet, barely sweet (via evaporated cane juice*), and suffused with natural fruit and spice flavors. The Greyhound (6 percent ABV) is the lightest in terms of flavor profile and punch, and (for better or worse) it conveys its grapefruit content mostly through aroma as opposed to an aggressive citric bite. Its finish is a mellow whisper of chamomile, and while the box touts cardamom, it’s subtly present, and definitely not out of balance.
The Moscow Mule (7 percent ABV) leads with a ginger note, but it’s not aggressive (or even acrid, as mules can sometimes be). The body leans into a natural apricot note that is highly pleasant, and it takes to ice nicely.
The Cosmopolitan is the fruitiest of the bunch, with a mellow nip of cranberry astringency and a full pear body.
The light profile of Joia Spirit seems to suggest a natural habitat of a bucket of ice, poolside, but come colder weather, these could be a novel third choice beyond beer and wine for casual gatherings.
Joia Spirit is available for a suggested retail price of $15 for a 4-pack of 12-ounce cans.
*Correction: The original version of this story stated that Joia Spirit’s evaporated cane juice was filtered through bone char; it is not.
Over the Labor Day weekend, I didn’t just head up to the cabin; I joined sixty other food-obsessed adults for a wilderness cooking retreat called Chef Camp, held at YMCA Camp Miller, where chef-led classes, gourmet meals, and classic camp activities converged in the Minnesota North Woods. What follows are my top five takeaways from the weekend.
ONE: How to shuck an oyster without sending yourself to the ER.
We had just finished breakfast. It was the first class at Chef Camp, and Sarah Master, the executive chef at Mr. Roberts Resort had us gather around a bonfire. Above us, tall red pines swayed. Before Master on a table were a blue mesh bag of oysters, a stack of linen towels, and a pile of oyster knives. We were handed a set of each so we could give oyster shucking a try.
To approach this like a pro, take a towel in your hand, along with the oyster, making sure the flat side of the shell is facing up. In the other hand, grab your oyster knife and wedge the knife firmly, vertically, right at the hinge of the shell, and wait until it pops open a bit. Then, use the knife blade to pry the rest of the shell open. Wipe the knife to remove any bits of shell or grime, and then work the knife under the oyster to remove it from the bottom shell, being careful to retain the oyster liquor.
Had I eaten plenty of oysters in my day? Yes. I’m at a foodie camp, after all. But shuck one? Never. It proved to be an easy check for some of us, harder for others, depending on how straight or rippled the shell was. We learned that East Coast oysters generally have a briny, mushroom flavor, while West Coast oysters tend to have more of a tart flavor.
Master’s oyster shucking prowess made more sense once I asked how she came to cooking. After studying pre-18th-century British literature in college, she decided she wasn’t hip on teaching. She blindly put a finger on a map of the U.S., and moved to New Orleans. Debating her path, and always knowing she loved food, she went to culinary school. We saw the richness of Master’s France-by-way-of-Southern influence in the classic mignonette we used to dress half the oysters. It was a mix of red wine vinegar, minced shallot, and freshly grated pepper. On the other half, we dolloped a spicy orange sambal-garlic butter. We cooked both versions over the fire for four or five minutes, until the edges curled slightly and the butter melted into the shell. Then, down the hatch they went, the perfect campfire delicacy.
TWO: Yeast can be harvested from anything.
Of the countless things I learned at camp, one that absolutely blew my mind is that sourdough starter can be made from pine cones. Ryan Stechschulte, a sous chef at Spoon and Stable, sent scouts to Camp Miller three months ahead of time to gather pine cones to use for a wild yeast culture. He boiled the pine cones in water and added flour to slowly develop the starter over several weeks. What resulted were naturally leavened sourdough loaves that beautifully integrated the tall-pine terroir of our North Star forest “classroom.”
We continued our bread education by taking turns rolling out dough for laffa, a Middle Eastern flatbread, and by listening to Stechschulte talk about berbere, an Ethiopian blend of chili peppers, garlic, ginger, fenugreek, cardamom, cumin, black pepper, allspice, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, and coriander. The complexity came through in a simple sprinkling of this deep-red spice over hot, cast-iron grilled laffa drizzled with olive oil.
“If you want to be really good at something, you have to be ready to mess up,” Stechschulte tells us, as he moved on to making cornbread in a cast-iron Dutch oven. Later, as we ate spoonfuls of the moist cornbread straight from the pot, savoring the velvety crumb lent by the creamed corn in the batter, I silently wondered just how many times he’d messed up to get to this sigh-inducing moment.
THREE: Only one percent of mushrooms are actually edible.
For our wildly anticipated foraging class, we were led along the lakefront for a hike out to Jamie Carlson’s classroom on the camp’s point. Our eyes were keen to pick out any mushrooms on our wooded path. We found Carlson (who writes the blog You Have to Cook it Right) decked out in camouflage, sitting by his fire with a cast-iron pot and skillet on the stove in front of him. “The only two cooking instruments you’ll ever need,” he says. “I can make anything with these.” Earlier that day, Carlson had led a group of foragers on a hike, during which lobster mushrooms (not actually a mushroom, but a fungus that grows on certain mushroom species, giving them a reddish-orange hue) and black trumpets were found.
For our risotto class, we worked with giant puffball mushrooms. I picked up one that Carlson had foraged, and it was as heavy as a baby and as big as a basketball. As you’d imagine, they’re great for foraging because they’re easy to see. They’re best to eat when they’re about the size of a fist because they start to decompose once they get larger.
We helped Carlson chop onion and garlic for the risotto we began to cook over the wood fire. As the water boiled and the aromatics sauteed, we listened to Carlson share his passion for foraging and cooking in the wild. “There’s a certain magic in finding, hunting, and cooking something right where you found it, with the edibles present around you,” he says. His stories triggered that deep Minnesotan survival instinct (you know, the one akin to House Stark’s mantra that “winter is coming”), drawing us into the rugged appeal of living off the land.
We learned there are over 3 million types of mushrooms in the world, and yet, only 1 percent are edible. While scouting the Minnesota landscape for his bow hunts, Carlson developed an interest in the wild mushrooms he found in abundance on his path. He recommends Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest by Teresa Marrone and Kathy Yerich (above) to anyone beginning their foraging journey. Best part? The authors are from Minnesota and know our local flora.
FOUR: Using the “fruit” of your land creates food authenticity.
“It’s important to feel a connection to where you live,” says J.D. Fratzke, a chef-owner of Saint Dinette and The Strip Club Meat and Fish. “Centuries ago, just imagine how flavors were transmitted. People shared spices from their homeland saying, ‘I want you to taste where I come from.’ We learn to speak each other’s language by sharing flavors and food.”
Listening to Fratzke speak is a lullaby to anyone foodcentric. “Anything you’re inspired by, whether it’s history, art, or music, can be translated onto the plate,” he says. Fratzke’s interest in the merging of ideas and worlds is so primal in his cooking that you can’t help but be enveloped in his stories about the history of the spice trade, or how wild rice is harvested by native tribes, or how reading books rich in descriptive and sensory language feeds his soul for cooking. His top literary muses? The Collector of Worlds by Iliya Troyanov and Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison.
Fratzke’s style involves using native Minnesota foods with an homage to the countries, cuisines, and spices currently feeding his curiosity. Think freshly caught walleye fillets poached in coconut milk for meen molee (a dish from Kerala, in southern India) served over a fragrant bed of mixed basmati and wild rice. Or Korean ssam, butter lettuce leaves wrapped around trout, bright red crayfish tails, vibrant pink pickled cabbage, and cilantro. Fratzke holds sacred cooking outdoors in his home state. He has instinctively — not because it’s trendy or the right thing to do — created a culinary North by embracing local ingredients.
FIVE: Minnesota Nice is at work in our restaurant kitchens.
Call us Upscale Flannel, Team North, or Minnesota Nordic — we’ve got an unrivaled culinary scene happening in our state. How about this for Minnesota nice? Our chefs actually support one another. How do we get better? By getting better as a whole. “If one of my line cooks needs more hours, I’m calling a chef at a different restaurant to see if her restaurant needs more help,” Fratzke says. “Why would I do that? Because it helps everyone, and because I don’t get to spend time with my friends who are chefs; so this way, my cooks come back, mentored, sharing what they’ve learned, and I learn, too.”
Line cooks as pollinators for culinary and creative growth — sharing resources, and leaning on one another for fresh ideas. That’s what gives us our Minnesota Nice reputation, our culinary true North, and our depth of place. We don’t need to waste a second trying to emulate the big food cities; we’ve got what we need right here.