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Cheap Entertaining: Milk-Braised Lamb with Fennel

If the sound of meat and milk sounds odd, remember that pork braised in milk has a impeccable pedigree from both Venice and southwest France, and the lamb and fennel combination is a winner. I’ve had teenagers claiming to hate fennel, then come back for more. You can use any cut of lamb, but the weight, trimmed of fat, needs to be at least 900g. That may not sound much for six people, but it’s a rich dish. Sometimes I buy boned, rolled neck joints and unroll them. A typical pair weighed 1.11 kg before trimming and 928g afterwards, which was perfect. And they’re cheap. Pork shoulder, trimmed of fat, also works. Potatoes, boiled or mash, are a good accompaniment, but rice goes well, too.

Serves 6

1 large fennel bulb or 2 small

3 tbsp fennel seeds

3 tbsp olive oil

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

3 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped

900g-1kg lamb, trimmed of ifat and cut into chunks, roughly 4 x 4cm

Sea salt and pepper

600 ml milk

200 ml crème fraiche

Optional: 1 tbsp capers, drained, and the zest of ½ lemon; or gremolata to serve

Trim the fennel top and bottom, keeping the fronds, and remove any loose or discoloured outer parts, then dice.

Grind the fennel seeds using a pestle and mortar, spice grinder or processor). Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a heavy-based casserole and fry the diced fennel on a medium heat for 3–4 minutes. Reduce the heat a little, stir in the ground fennel and garlic and cook for 1 minute or less. Stir in 2 tbsp of the parsley.

Heat the remaining oil in a large pan and brown the meat quickly on a fairly high heat, in batches as necessary. Stir the lamb into the fennel mix in the casserole and season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Put the milk in the pan you used for the meat and heat it, scraping up any meaty residue (you may need to do this in batches, depending on your pan). Add the hot milk and then the cream to the casserole and stir.

Bring to simmering point. Cover with a piece of greaseproof paper and put the lid on. Cook on the lowest possible heat, stirring twice (mind out for the steam), for 1.5-2 hours, until the meat is completely tender.

If using, stir in the capers and lemon zest. Stir in most of the remaining parsley, but keep a little back to garnish, together with the fennel fronds, or sprinkle each serving with gremolata.

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