>> Wednesday, December 21, 2011
After a freak snowstorm in October, we've actually be enjoying unusually warm weather throughout November and even into December.
In fact, we got so used to the warm weather that when temperatures actually reached the twenties a few days ago, everyone complained about how cold it was. Funny thing is, that's sort of normal for December here in Boston!
With the inevitable cold winter arriving, warm and hearty meals begin to look really, really inviting.
I've just recently started experimenting with using the oven more and learning some pretty traditional Western dishes I never made before. I guess most of my life I've cooked simple Asian stir fry, which almost never involves the oven and typically only requires quick cooking of meat.
I'm slowly discovering the amazing flavors that can come from simply cooking meat for long periods of time at low temperatures with certain, key "magic" ingredients.
I was not planning on making lamb shanks the night I cooked this. Instead, I had planned out a whole menu of Milanese osso bucco and oven roasted Brussels sprouts for a good friend (and relative!) who was coming over for dinner. After picking up 90% of my osso bucco ingredients, I stopped by the meat counter to pick up some veal shanks.
"I'm sorry, we're totally out."
I was running out of time. Why am I such a procrastinator?? The last time this happened, I tried making the same dish with pork shanks. Although the sauce was tasty, the pork came out way too dry.
The butcher looked me in the eye and say, "here are two beautiful lamb shanks. You can use the same ingredients from your osso bucco and try roasting the lamb shanks in the oven. Low and slow - it will taste fantastic."
Dubious but desperate, I called my friend to make sure she ate lamb. Thankfully, she said she liked lamb, so I took the plunge and bought the two shanks.
This dishes takes a lot of time to cook, but the actual prep time is not too bad. You need to spend about 20-30 minutes up front and then you just wait for several more hours.
I started cooking on a Sunday afternoon around 2PM. Sear the shanks in a big pot until they are nice and browned. Set them aside.
Add your mirepoix ingredients (onions, carrots, celery) plus garlic and cook them until they are nicely browned. Don't skimp on this step, as waiting for proper browning will give the final sauce a lot of flavor! Add wine and deglaze, letting a portion of the alcohol to boil off (5-10 minutes).
Add the shanks back in, cover with chicken broth, add rosemary and bay leaves, and bake in the oven, covered. The longer you cook, the more tender the meat will become. I would bake for atleast 2 hours, but if you can cook for even longer, it will taste even better. I ended up cooking it for 4-5 hours before we ate dinner close to 8PM! At that point, the sauce was gorgeously flavorful and the meat was literally falling off the bone.
I served the shank over saffron rice (made in a rice cooker!) with gremolata on top.
It was fantastic and so easy! Sure, it takes a long time, but the amount of active prep time is actually pretty low. You can even "cheat" and purchase a tub of pre-chopped mirepoix from Trader Joe's if you're short on time.
Oven Braised Lamb Shanks
4 pieces lamb shank with bone
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of rosemary
2-3 cups wine (can be white, red, or a mix of both)
1-2 T tomato paste
2-3 cups chicken stock (or enough to cover the shanks in the pan)
Make sure to use a saute pan big enough to comfortably fit all the shanks because you will be stewing them in the pan later.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Over medium-high heat sear all sides of the lamb shanks in olive oil. Set aside the shanks. To the oil in the pan, add the chopped onion, celery, carrots, and garlic and cook until browned and aromatic (~20 minutes). Add the tomato paste and mix well. Add wine, turn up the heat, and deglaze the pan. Let the mixture cook for about 5-10 minutes to boil off some of the alcohol. Add the shanks back in, and pour in the chicken broth. Make sure that the shanks are covered (or at least mostly covered) in liquid. Add bay leaves and rosemary. Cover the pan and place it in the oven. After one hour, reduce the heat to 325 and cook uncovered for another 2 hours, checking every 45 minutes or so and flipping the shanks if necessary.
Serve over saffron rice with gremolata on top.