Stuffed Saddle of Lamb

Makes 4 to 6 servings
Time: 1 1/2 hours

You could approximate this wonderful dish of Daniel's without the distinctive flavor of preserved lemons or the novelty of Buddha's Hand citrus, but without access to a butcher who will provide you with a boneless saddle of lamb, this recipe's just here to read. Of all the lamb cuts, saddle is the most difficult to obtain and perhaps the most delicious, an exquisite combination of flavor and texture, with just the right combination of fat and lean. It's possible to bone out a saddle of lamb at home, but unless you are extremely skilled with a knife, you're likely to butcher it-in the negative sense.

The technique for "filleting" Meyer lemons (or any small citrus, really), is to peel them with a knife, cutting right down to the flesh and removing all the white pith, then cutting the segments away from the membrane that criss-crosses through the center of a lemon. If you can't get Meyer lemons, substitute clementines, blood oranges, or regular lemons.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch Swiss chard, about 1 pound, leaves only, blanched in boiling water until tender
1 medium onion, chopped
Pinch fresh thyme leaves
1 bunch spinach, trimmed of thick stems, washed and dried
1 bunch fresh basil, stemmed, washed, and dried
1 (2- to 3-pound) boned saddle of lamb (bones reserved)
Salt and black pepper
2 teaspoons lemon zest
About 10 black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1 confited tomato (page 243)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
4 artichokes, peeled and quartered (or 6 trimmed, halved baby artichokes)
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup lamb stock or water
2 preserved lemons, zested, zest cut into matchsticks and blanched
3 Meyer lemons, "filleted" (see sidebar)
1 cup cherry tomatoes
Several thin slices Buddha's Hand citrus (optional; see sidebar, page 153)
Coarse salt, for garnish

1. Put 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large deep skillet or casserole. Turn the heat to medium-high and wait a minute or so, until the oil is hot. Add the chard, onion, and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chard is wilted, then add the spinach and one-third of the basil and cook about 5 minutes more. Set the mixture aside to cool while you stuff the saddle (you can execute this step hours or even the day before and use the mixture straight from the refrigerator).

2. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Open the saddle on a cutting board in front of you and season well on both sides with salt, pepper, and 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest. Score the flanks of the saddle with the tip of a sharp knife.

3. Toss the sautéed chard mixture with the olives, remaining 1 teaspoon lemon zest, confited tomato, and another third of the fresh basil, then arrange it down the middle of the saddle. Wrap the two flanks over the top of the stuffing, then tie the saddle tightly in 3 or 4 places using butcher's twine.

4. Put the remaining 1 tablespoon of the oil in the skillet you used previously and turn the heat to medium-high. Wait a minute or so, until the oil is hot, then add the tied saddle and the reserved bones and lightly brown them; the process will take 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven.

5. After 10 minutes, brush the saddle with the butter and return it to the oven. After another 10 minutes add the artichokes and garlic cloves to the pan, baste all with the juices in the pan, and bake another 10 to 15 minutes, until the saddle is medium-rare (it should be firm but moist when you poke it and measure about 130°F on an instant-read thermometer at its thickest part).

6. Take the pan out of the oven and transfer the saddle to a cutting board; let rest for 15 minutes. Remove the artichokes and garlic to a warm plate. Strain the sauce, discard the bones, and return the pan to the stove over high heat. Deglaze with the stock, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits. Reduce the liquid by half or more, until it thickens and becomes saucy, about 10 minutes. Keep warm while you untie and slice the saddle.

7. Add the preserved lemon zest, lemon fillets, cherry tomatoes, sliced Buddha's Hand, and remaining basil to the pan and warm through. Transfer sliced saddle to a serving platter. Sauce the saddle, garnish with coarse salt, and serve.