Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Braised lamb shanks with spring gremolata and roasted spring vegetables

 My darling husband went and had himself a birthday this week. Hooray! An excuse to make something unnecessarily over-the-top! And when I think of cooking for a special occasion, the first thing my li'l brain wants is lamb.

Fortunately, my husband's li'l brain wants lamb too. Can you even believe these? Two shanks were 2.83 pounds. I had to take a shot of them in my 7 1/4 quart Dutch oven for scale, below. At my Pavillions in California (just a regular grocery store), they used to sell two perfect little lamb shanks shrink wrapped and ready to go with the rest of the lamb in the meat case, but I haven't been able to find those here (although my butcher said they do have them sometimes). Get those if you can, these were definitely too big. 

Shanks are woefully underutilized cut of meat. It's the same cut that you'd use to make osso buco, but veal. And, oddly enough, lamb shanks are like a quarter of the cost of veal for having twice as much flavor - my massive Fred Flintstone shanks were only $5/lb, even at Central Market.

Like the ribs I made a couple of weeks ago these guys require a long slow braise, so this is not a weeknight meal but it is still quite simple to prepare. Be warned, this sauce is ridiculous. You would swear it has cream or butter in it. You'll have too much of it - if I were making 4 shanks, I'd use the same amount of braise as I did for 2. I mean, naturally I expected it to taste good, but it was extremely good, to the point where we were actually contemplating keeping the excess to use somehow in something else. I think the next time I make this I'll use just one shank (if the giant ones are all I can find), shred it after it's cooked, then add it back into the pureed sauce as a lamb ragu, and serve it over egg noodles. Yes. And maybe add mushrooms! YES!

2 ~1lb lamb shanks
sprinkle of all-purpose flour
olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups low sodium chicken stock (homemade is best - I make a big batch and freeze 2-cup portions in Ziploc bags)
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 or 4 sprigs Italian parsley
1 tbsp fresh thyme (I used a shake of dried - my garden thyme is still pretty young)
1 bay leaf

1 tbsp mint, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp lemon zest, grated or microplaned
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped or microplaned

1/2 cup couscous, I like whole wheat
1 cup low sodium chicken stock or water
2 tbsp pine nuts, dry toasted

assorted spring vegetables for roasting (I'm using asparagus)

Rinse and pat dry your shanks. Give them a good thorough seasoning with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, then a dusting of flour. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot and brown the shanks on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Remove the lamb and add your carrots, onion, and celery to the pot along with a little kosher salt, allowing them to soften for another 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and tomato paste, then add the chicken stock, wine, parsley, thyme, and bay leaf. Return the shanks to the pot and bring the liquid to a boil (note that the liquid will probably not cover them, which is fine). At that point, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 3 hours. Turn the shanks every half hour or so. You'll know they're done when the meat pulls away from the bone and starts to fall apart. Remove the shanks and bay leaf, skim any fat off the surface and puree the sauce with your immersion blender (or spoon carefully into a regular blender). You do definitely want to puree it, it becomes so lovely and creamy. Return the shanks to the sauce.

Any time during the braising, prep your couscous. Toast your pine nuts in a dry pan until lightly browned. Bring the chicken stock or water to boil in a small pot and add the couscous with a pinch of kosher salt. Cover, turn off the heat, and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and stir in your pine nuts. Recover until you're ready to eat.

When the shanks are just about done, preheat your broiler on low. Trim your asparagus and toss with a little kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and olive oil, and broil for about 5 minutes. While that's happening, prep your gremolata by zesting your lemon and garlic onto a cutting board and then mincing your mint into it.

Serve a lamb shank over a bed of couscous with plenty of luscious sauce and a sprinkling of your bright minty gremolata, asparagus on the side.

Serves 2 very hungry, very happy people. Takes a couple of hours with just a little active time.

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