Thursday, November 19, 2009

Lamb Shank Comfort

Until we had the kitchen freezer disaster, I'd forgotten I had these beauties out in the garage freezer.

We don't eat lamb shanks often because they carry a fair amount of fat.  But my theory is that a splurge every now and then won't kill us. And I pour the fat off of the juices, and cut it off of the meat, and we don't eat a lot at once.  Lamb shanks are just a deep, changing-seasons flavor comfort.  Easy too. 

Four shanks makes four to eight meals, depending on appetite and recipe.  Sometimes I serve them whole, one per diner (for hearty appetites).  Other times I take the meat off of the bones and incorporate with the (skimmed) sauce, rice and roasted vegetables into a casserole.

Here are the basics for Autumn Lamb Shanks:

Preheat the oven to 325degrees.

Sprinkle the shanks with kosher salt and coarse-ground pepper.  Heat a little oil in an oven-going dutch oven and brown the shanks on all sides.  Remove shanks from pan.

Saute a large chopped onion and two chopped carrots.  (If I'd had celery the day I cooked these, I'd have in  put a couple of celery stalks too).  When the vegetables are soft, add 3 cloves of minced garlic.  Stir.  I like a sprinkle of red pepper flakes for zing, but you can leave them out if you're not fond of heat.

Add 1 1/2 cups of red wine, 1 cup of water and 1 tablespoon of tomato paste.  The small amount of tomato paste adds depth without a pronounced tomato flavor.

Stir to scrape up the bits from the bottom of the pan, then put in herbs and return the shanks to the pan.  I used a bay leaf, a sprig of fresh rosemary, a sprig of Mexican tarragon, and several sprigs of fresh thyme.  Tie the herbs together with string if you don't want to fish stems out piecemeal at the end.

We're lucky to live in a zone warm enough for growing herbs so we mostly use herbs from the garden, but dried herbs are good too.   Don't worry if you don't have Mexican tarragon, the dish will still be great. 

Return shanks to pan, cover and put in the oven for an hour, then turn the shanks over, cover again and cook another half-hour.

Remove shanks from pan.  Let the liquid cool and pour off the fat that gathers on the top.  I have one of those pourer thingies with a spout from the bottom.  It does a pretty good job of separating juice and fat.   However you manage to take the fat out, taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper if needed.

I like to serve these braised lamb shanks with a bed of brown rice to soak up the juices and a crisp salad for balance.  We drank our new favorite budget wine with it, Avalon California Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007, which has cherry-berry forward fruit, a hint of chocolate and a bit of spice.  Other varietal options are shiraz,  malbec and zinfandel.

Build a fire in the fireplace, set a place for your sweetie and savor a cool-season dinner.

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