As a food blogger and avid home cook, I’ve admired the Canal House ladies from afar for years, devotedly collecting all of their cookbooks and reading every word of their warmly written recipes and forewards. And by “admired” I mean something just a whisper shy of straight-up idolatry. Anyone who is remotely into food will tell you that Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer are the ones to go to when you need something simple and homey, straightforward and startlingly delicious.
So, when the MYHABIT invited me to join them on a drive out to Lambertville, New Jersey, with the Canal House cooking studio being the end destination, I replied “YES” at a rate that probably alarmed my editor and had her wondering if I had her office bugged. (Ed. Note: We totally understand.)
About an hour and a half outside of NYC, Lambertville is pretty much the definition of “picturesque,” as is the charming row house that contains the Canal House kitchen, a bright, airy space with an old fireplace, a long, rustic dining room table, and a simple galley kitchen, where Hamilton and Hirsheimer meet every day to cook, work, and participate in a special kind of years-long friendship, face-to-face camaraderie that seems to be increasingly rare these days.
It was the first truly sunny day of spring when we made the trip, and before we knew it, we were sitting at aforementioned dining room table, basking in the warm hospitality and earthy intelligence of Hamilton and Hirsheimer while they effortlessly doled out deliciously sweet cups of pickled shrimp and words of wisdom about how to live your life with a focus on the important things: love, family, adventure, travel. The sun was shining in that particularly pale, early spring way, the water on their canal was glimmering, the church bells were ringing (seriously), and both the food and the company were nothing short of spectacular. It was the most gorgeous way to usher in spring that I’ve ever indulged in. The best part? They sent us away, recipes in hand, so that we (and you!) are able to recreate a little bit of the magic at home. Here, everything you need for a perfect spring lunch.
The Starter Dish
PICKLED SHRIMP & CELERY
We prefer first to poach the shrimp, then to peel and devein them. That way they maintain their shape rather than curling and flaring into a “butterfly”. When we can find a ripe avocado, we pit, peeled, and cube it and add it to the pickled shrimp and celery just before service.
For The Pickling Brine:
½ cup rice wine vinegar
½ cup mirin
1 tablespoons sugar
2 thick slices fresh ginger
5 black peppercorns
5 juniper berries
2 whole celery hearts, some leaves reserved for garnish
1 cup white wine
8 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
24–32 medium unpeeled shrimp
Really good extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
For the pickling brine, put the rice wine vinegar, mirin, sugar, ginger, peppercorns, and juniper berries, along with 1 cup water, in a pot and cook over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the brine into a wide shallow dish. This brine can be made up to 1 week in advance. Keep refrigerated.
Remove any large ribs of celery from the hearts. Keep the hearts whole and put them into a large pot with the wine, peppercorns, bay leaves, and a generous pinch of salt. Add just enough water to cover the celery. Cover and simmer over medium heat until the celery is crisp-tender when pierced with a paring knife, 25–30 minutes. Transfer the celery to a cutting board. Cut the hearts crosswise into .-inch-thick pieces and add them to the pickling brine.
Using the same pot and liquid in which you cooked the celery, poach the shrimp until just cooked, about 3 minutes. Drain the shrimp in a colander. Peel and devein the shrimp and put in a bowl. Pour the celery and the pickling brine over the shrimp. Make sure everything is submerged. If there isn’t enough brine to cover everything completely, just give the celery and shrimp a turn every now and then. Cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate, and allow the shrimp and celery to “pickle” for about an hour.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the shrimp and celery to plates. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and garnish with celery leaves and chopped chives. Serve cold.
The Main Event
ROAST LEG OF LAMB
The rosy pan juices from this roast leg of lamb are perfectly flavorful au naturel, but for a rich brown gravy we add black coffee to the roasting pan to flavor the pan juices.
1 leg of lamb, 4–5 pounds, tail, pelvic, and thigh bones removed, shank bone and heel left attached, at room temperature
Salt and pepper
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 anchovy filets
Large handful of fresh parsley leaves
2 cups black coffee
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken stock, or more
Preheat the oven to 350°. Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Make a pile with the garlic, anchovies, parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper on a cutting board and chop it together to make a fine paste. Using the tip of a paring knife, make several 1-inch-deep slits all over the meaty parts of the lamb. Push the paste into the slits with your finger. Some of the paste will smear on the surface of the lamb, but that’s fine.
Put the lamb on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. Pour the coffee into the pan. Roast the lamb until it is nicely browned on the outside, rosy pink on the inside, and the internal temperature reaches 130° for medium-rare, about 1½ hours. Add a splash of water to the pan as the lamb roasts if the pan juices begin to dry out. Transfer the lamb to a warm serving platter or cutting board, loosely tent it with foil, and let the roast rest for 15–20 minutes before carving.
To make the pan gravy, put the roasting pan with the drippings on top of the stove and heat over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly to prevent it from getting lumpy, until the flavor is toasty rather than raw, 3–4 minutes. Whisk in the stock and cook, whisking constantly, until the gravy is smooth and thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Thin the gravy with a little more stock if it’s too thick. Strain the gravy through a sieve into a gravy boat and serve with the carved roast.
The Grand Finale
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
1½ cups superfine sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups strawberries, hulled
1½ cups heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 275_°. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Put the egg whites and cream of tartar into a large mixing bowl. Using a mixer fitted with whisks, beat the whites on medium speed until they are very foamy. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until they hold medium-stiff peaks. Continue beating on medium-high speed and gradually add 1 cup of the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Increase the speed to high and beat the whites until they are thick, stiff, and glossy. The total beating time depends on the freshness of the egg whites and the power of your mixer, and we’ve found that it can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 10 minutes. Fold the vinegar and vanilla into the whites.
Pile the meringue into the center of the parchment paper and gently smooth it out to form a thick 9 -inch circle. Put the meringue into the oven and bake for 1 hour.
Turn off the oven and leave the meringue inside to dry out, 2–3 hours. The longer it dries out the chewier, and crunchier it becomes, so leaving it in the turned-off oven as long as overnight is fine too. The meringue will have cracks around the center and sides.
Toss the strawberries and the remaining ½ _cup of sugar together in a bowl. Peel off the parch¬ment paper and put the meringue on a cake plate. Whip the cream in a mixing bowl until big soft peaks form. Arrange the berries on the meringue and spoon the whipped cream on top.
Happy Spring, indeed.
More guest food blog recipes for your cooking / dining pleasure:
*Roasted (not fried) buffalo wings: Yes, please.
*Perfect (and perfectly spicy) pasta Arrabiatta, courtesy of charming chef Serena Bass.
*Now, these you gotta try: Spoon Fork Bacon’s sausage rolls.