Considering I was vegetarian for so many years, and for largely political reasons at that, it’s perhaps ironic that I have developed a propensity for eating baby animals. In particular, I like lamb. A lot. So I couldn’t refuse a couple of lovely lamb shanks winking at me behind the glass at Prather a few weeks back. But then, straight into the freezer they went to rest in an icy tomb for a future meal.
After all, lamb shanks are not the sort of thing you just whip up on a workday evening. They demand a long, slow braise to break down all the gristle and connective tissue, or else you end up with a plate of tough, gnarly meat. And I don’t love lamb that much.
But Sundays are made for the long and slow. Sundays are the days we typically have a big pot of chicken stock or sauce bubbling away on a back burner for hours at a stretch. This Sunday was no exception — while a mighty pot of stock stewed, my braise was brewing in its own unctuous juices in the oven.
Recipe? We don’t need no stinkin’ recipe. To apply precise measurements to this dish would rob it of its rustic country soul. My meaty shanks got patted dry, generously seasoned and tossed in a powdery bath of flour, then quickly and thoroughly browned all around over high heat. While the bronzed thighs rested off to the side, in went a whole mess of coarsely chopped veggies — your basic mirepoix, plus a little of whatever else was taking up space in the fridge — for a little softening. In went a spoonful of tomato paste, half a bottle of good red wine, maybe almost as much chicken stock. Up to the bubble, and it’s into the hot tub for my mighty hunks of meat. Cover on, into a 325º oven, and the rest is all waiting. Like, three or four hours of waiting.
But it’s worth the wait. Lift the lid to find meat sliding off the bone, swimming in an opaque sauce thickened with the lamb’s own juices. Time to consider accompaniments.
The best complement to slow-cooked food is the contrast of fresh and bright flavors. A little gremolata goes a long way. We had garlic and parsley, but also some basil, and I pulled a glistening rind of preserved lemon out for an added twist. Chop the bejeezus out of it all, together. Voilà.
As for staple, polenta’s lovely, as are egg noodles and mashed potatoes, but for both ease and complementary flavors, it’s hard to beat cous cous. I sauteed up a dash of the gremolata and some finely chopped prunes for the base; in went some stock to boil, then the cous cous. Again, no recipe necessary.
This dish was a study in balance: Fall-apart lamb meat swathed in an unctuous sauce; the faint sweetness of prunes punctuating the savory stew; the bright pop of lemon, herbs and raw garlic to cut through the richness of the braise.
And the best part: leftovers. A fair amount of meat, and a lot of the stew, remained. Tonight it was a pizza topping, and I can hardly wait enjoy it over a nice nest of pappardelle.
One year ago
today yesterday … Popeners!