Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep

Okay, okay. I'm reaching and I don't know if this guy was white, black or pink, but I know what I like this time of year and it's braised lamb shanks. If you've never tried making them, they're simple. You're essentially making a stew. Let's get cooking.

First, you have to brown your shanks. You can do it on top of the stove, but their awkward shape makes it tough, so do it in the oven. Just grab a dutch oven or other deep pot, rub the shanks a little olive oil, season them with salt and pepper and put them in a 425 degree oven. Turn them every 15 minutes or so and remove them when they're brown, which will take 30 to 45 minutes.

While they're browning, make a mirepoix. Remove the browned shanks from your pot and saute the mirepoix - which you've seasoned lightly with salt and pepper - on top of the stove over medium heat. When the vegetables have softened, add two or three cloves of minced garlic and let it become aromatic. Add a cup or two of red wine and scrape up the browned bits (the fond) in the bottom of the pot as you boil the alcohol off the wine.

Add enough good beef stock (or canned broth if you must - wink) to mostly cover the shanks, toss in a couple of parsley sprigs, about a half can of diced tomatoes for two shanks and a big pinch of dried thyme. Set the pot in the middle of a 325-degree oven and braise the lamb for at least 2 hours or until it's very tender but not quite falling off the bone. Check every half hour or so to make sure you're not losing too much liquid through evaporation. If you are, just add some water.

Strain the cooking liquid through a fine-mesh sieve and refrigerate the shanks in it overnight. The next day, scrape the congealed fat off the surface and reheat the dish gently. Just prior to serving, wrap the shanks in foil while you either reduce the sauce by half or make a beurre manie - which is a paste of equal parts of flour and softened butter. Maybe a couple of tablespoons of each, but start with a tablespoon. You can always add more. Stir it into the sauce and bring to a boil. Simmer for ten minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste, return the shanks to the sauce for a couple of minutes and serve.

I like to make a bed of mashed Yukon gold potatoes and stand the shanks up for a nice vertical presentation and drizzle the sauce on the shanks and over the potatoes, but use your own imagination. Serve with your favorite green vegetable. I like green beans or asparagus, but this goes with almost anything. Serve with a bold, young red wine of your choosing, maybe a syrah or a zinfandel.

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