Saturday, November 7, 2009

Perfect Winter Meal: Braised Lamb Shanks

Ha. Ha ha ha. I find myself giggling as I write this post. Friday, planning out my weekend meals on the train home in 45 degree weather, I decided to make braised lamb shanks, as I have some red wine to use, and all the mirepoix ingredients on hand. Fast forward to Sunday, lamb-shank-cooking-day, and it's 70 degrees out.

Okay, so maybe it's not wintery outside, but I'm craving meat and a warm dish and this is so going to hit the spot! It reminds me a lot of one of my all time favorite dishes -- you can find it at Pietra at The Stone House in Little Compton, RI. I'm a low and slow kind of girl. I love short ribs and lamb shanks, stews and navarins. I'm not one to rush things, and when it comes to running, I like the longer distances, but at a slower pace!

Braising is a very straightforward cooking technique. In classic French cuisine, it is a "Mixte" technique, as you are browning meat (concentration method, sealing in juices) and then cooking it in liquid (extraction method - the meat releases juices into the liquid, deepening the flavor). You take meat (beef, lamb, etc) and brown it in a bit of oil on high heat (this I think is the scary part - but put the meat down, and let it sizzle. Don't touch! It will unstick if the pan is hot! After about 2-4 min, depending on the size of meat, flip it and brown another side). You take the meat out, brown some mirepoix - typically onion, carrot, celery, garlic - and then sprinkle in some flour, which will help thicken your sauce (singer en francais!) and moisten with a liquid of your choice -- water, red wine, white wine, stock. Then, add that meat back in, plop a lid on the pot and braise either in the oven (I like this -- at 325) or on the stove.

This recipe was slightly inspired by a recipe in Danny Meyer's Union Square Cafe (one of my favorite restos in NYC) cookbook, and a lot of my own addition/deletion. As I write this, my shanks have been cooking for a bit over an hour in the oven, and I'm salivating smelling the lovely rosemary aroma coming from the oven. Yum, I can not wait to eat this with some crusty Wave Hill Bread!

Earthly Epicurean Red Wine Braised Lamb Shank

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or you can use extra-virgin olive oil)
Four 3/4-1 lb lamb shanks
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 garlic cloves, peeled
4 medium carrots, sliced 1/4 thick
4 medium celery ribs, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2-3 tbsp flour
One 750-milliliter bottle dry red wine (I used a bottle of Meritage I had open that I didn't really want to drink)
1 cup chicken stock or water * (if you don't have stock, use water)
2 sprigs rosemary, chopped

Preheat the oven to 325°. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the oil. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper and brown them on 3 sides over moderately high heat. Set shanks aside. Add the garlic, carrots, celery and onion to the casserole and saute until golden (if the oil from the lamb is at all smoky, drain and use fresh oil to brown the vegs). Add the flour, stir and cook for a minute or so until the raw flour is gone. Add the red wine and bring to a boil, while stirring up the bottom to loosen the golden bits (tasty things!). Add the stock or water and bring to a simmer. Add the lamb shanks and rosemary. Cover the casserole tightly and transfer to the oven. Braise the lamb shanks, turning every 30 minutes, for about 1 1/2 hours, or until very tender.

Transfer the lamb shanks to an ovenproof plate. Strain the braising liquid (you can save the veg if you want -- I kind of like the braised celery!), pressing on the solids. Bring the liquid to a boil in a saucepan until thick and reduced, covering the back of a spoon. Season the sauce to taste. Pour sauce over the shanks and reheat, covered with foil, if necessary prior to serving.

I like serving these with sauteed kale or swiss chard and polenta!

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