Sauté d’agneau is one of those great French classics that used to feature frequently on bistro menus, especially when the weather turned cool. These days this succulent lamb dish is harder to find in Paris restaurants, where current culinary fashion favors small plates of designer food. Nonetheless, it has been a personal favorite since I first tasted it many years ago at l’Entrepôt, an airy, veranda-style restaurant tucked away behind Montparnasse.
Sauté d’agneau / Sauté of lamb
But what exactly is sauté d’agneau? When setting out to write this recipe, I spent a considerable amount of time wondering how to translate the dish. Is it a stew? Not really, at least in my opinion. The word ‘stew’ conjures up a dish I was served as a child in which meat was boiled with carrots, tomatoes, potatoes and peas until it had blended into a kind of unpalatable glop. This does not resemble sauté d’agneau, in which the lamb is first sautéed with onions and garlic — hence the name — and then simmered gently in wine and broth, with a little cream added at the end.
The result is a dish rich in flavor that marries well with veggie purées of all sorts, with pasta or rice, or with white beans, a traditional partner of lamb in France. I served sauté of lamb to friends this week, paired with a finocchio purée. We started with country ham and figs, and followed up with assorted cheeses and plump red grapes. A fine seasonal meal.
During our dinner, one of my friends asked how I got the recipes for this site. Did I look them up in cookbooks or online, or were they my original creations? The answer is: all of the above. When I begin with a cookbook or blog recipe, I credit the source in the post. But far more often I make the dish as I always have, without consulting anyone. I weigh and write down the ingredients as I go. That was the case with this recipe.
For the record, I did scout around a bit, but there are few recipes on the web for sauté d’agneau — and even Julia Child fails to mention it in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, even though this dish is an absolute classic of the French culinary repertoire. Then I called my friend Nicole, with whom I used to cook in a weekend bistro when I first arrived in Paris. I wanted to confirm my version against her version, but she swore she didn’t remember how to make the dish. That’s when the automatic pilot kicks in. It’s like finding your way to a place you used to frequent when you can’t remember the exact address. I begin to cook, and it somehow all comes together.
Getting back to l’Entrepôt, the restaurant is part of a congenial cultural space that also features a cinema, concerts, art exhibits and lectures. I rarely get over there these days, but I have fond memories of dining there in my twenties and thirties. The menu, however, has evolved with the times. These days it features quinoa tabbouleh, Thai chicken salad, beef carpaccio and — I kid you not — a cheeseburger. Nothing vaguely resembling a classic dish like sauté d’agneau is to be found. The solution? Make it at home. And…