Épaule d’agneau de 7 heures

Imported by the Romans more than 2 millennia ago

A little bit of French history, or rather history of France before it became France. All French 6-graders learn that the Roman army of Jules Caesar defeated the Gallic tribes of Vercingetorix in 52 B.C. in Alesia, in what is now the beautiful region of Auvergne. Alesia is supposed to mark the final step of the conquest of Gaul by the Romans. The latter have undoubtedly contributed to the development of what will became later France, including its language that owes a lot to Latin. Romans also developed the commerce, the administration, the infrastructures… and they also brought their culinary traditions with them. The most famous one being the viticulture and the winemaking activities… Nice legacy.

A recipe attributed to the Roman legacy is therefore the lamb leg simmered for long hours on wood fire embers. Apicius, the famous food writer, somehow  the “Julia Child” of his time (1st century B.C.), mentioned it in De re coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking), the food recipe book that he supposedly wrote (this is now questioned). Not sure if this is linked with the battle of Alesia, but this recipe, under the name agneau à la brayaude is first attributed to the Arverni, as the Auvergne’s inhabitants were named then. Now, several French regions or provinces have developed similar recipes, in the Médoc, in Provence…

To eat with a spoon..

The principle is always the same, slowly cook a piece of lamb (hind or front leg*) during long hours, seven in fact, although there are some variances about the technique of cooking (sealing the pot with a dough), the duration (some recipe mentions a 5-hour cooking and I personally think that, at least for lamb meat, this is quite sufficient), the type of meat (wild boar, venison…) or the sides (potatoes, other vegetables). I followed here the basic recipe and I served with a steamed couscous in which I incorporated lamb juice macerated raisins. But you can choose to serve it with potatoes, carrots, turnips (if so, just add them after 5 hours (to adjust depending on their size) to cook them in the juice, or also with beans such as flageolet or Tarbais beans. Last thing! You can save on your knives, a spoon will be enough to cut this meat that will melt into your mouth...

* NB. I call here “front leg” what is a traditional cut in France called épaule, which normally translates by “shoulder”… except that, based on the traditional American cut terminology, shoulder refers to the square cut shoulder with all or part of the front shank. Here I had the whole front shank and I had to do some “butchering” (see picture below) to “extract” the whole front leg and, by the same token, remove the shoulder blade bone!

Level of difficulty
Preparation time
Cooking time
30 minutes
7 hours

Ingredients - 8 servings


§  1 lamb front leg of around 2.5 lb. (see NB above)
§  1 big carrot chopped slantwise
§  1 onion very roughly chopped in 8 pieces (this is a long cooking)
§  1 celery stem, chopped
§  1 full glass of dry white wine
§  Olive oil
§  1 tbsp. of butter
§  8 garlic cloves, crushed, peeled and de-germed
§  Fresh herbs: thyme, marjoram, tarragon, bay leaves, sage
§  Salt (fleur de sel) and piment d’Espelette or pepper

1 big cast iron pot with its lid

1 If not already prepared by your butcher, tie the leg with a cooking twine, side- and long-wise. Put salt on each side and rub it with your hands so that it gets into the meat.

2 Put olive oil (and possibly the fat trims from your butchering job) in the pot, medium high, and seared the leg on each side till getting a nice gold/light brown color. Take the leg out of the pot and spread the pepper on all its sides.

3 Put the carrot, onion, celery segments in the pot, stirring them regularly, for 1 or 2 minutes or till the onion becomes translucent. Pour the glass of wine in the pot, and scratch the bottom with a wooden spoon to incorporate a maximum of flavors in the wine. Cook for 1 or 2 minutes, to evaporate the alcohol. Add the herbs and the garlic cloves.

4 Place the leg on top of the vegetables, put the lid on, and cook in a 285 F oven for 7 hours. After around 5 hours, check it. You will see that the meat and the vegetables render a lot of juice. Baste regularly (every 30 minutes) the meat with this juice.

5 After 7 hours, take the meat out the pot, stain the juice and let it reduce a bit, whisking the butter into it just before serving.



  1. Your story reminds me of my Auvergnois friends, who have a dairy farm. They tell me that every few years, something odd surfaces with the spring tilling (they grow food for the cows), an artifact from Roman times that took centuries to migrate upward in the soil (I have no clue why that happens!). And now, I know more about the Roman connection to this place I enjoy so much! By the way, Patrick, I see you're using a new recipe presentation tool, or whatever you call it. It looks terrific-- a very nice feature on your blog. We're lamb fans at our house, so this looks like a recipe Bert and I might try to replicate here. Looks wonderful, as always!

  2. Merci Carol... Try the lamb, you will love it... Regarding the layout, I had been looking for a way to improve the standard "linear" presentation, unsuccessfully till I realized that I could just work on Word, which is also much, much more convenient, and copy it as is on the blog... with a few flaws here and there though...

  3. No flaws that I have noticed, Patrick. Nice work here.


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