Monday, November 30, 2015

Braised Lamb Shanks with Polenta

OK, so this may not be the most photogenic of meals, but it is among the most delicious. Step outside your comfort zone, you non-lamb lovers, because after this meat braises for a few hours and melds with herbs and other ingredients, you're left with an earthy, flavorful meat that just falls off the bone and practically melts in your mouth.

Most of the "gamey" flavor associated with lamb is from the fat, which is why I trim off any possible fat from legs or racks of lambs I buy. But these shanks, the last pieces left from last year's purchase of half a lamb from a friend who raises them, were nearly devoid of fat. The white part you see below is more sinew than fat, which breaks down in the braising process. Each of these shanks held enough meat to serve two people comfortably.

Start out by browning the shanks in a Dutch over over medium high heat, with a little olive oil to coat the bottom.

Add some onion, celery, garlic, and carrots to the pan, as well as wine, chicken broth, tomatoes and herbs - in this case thyme and rosemary from my garden and bay leaves from my potted plant. Most supermarkets these days sell a plethora of fresh herbs, but use dried if you live in the hinterlands and can't find fresh.

You could simmer this on top of the range, but if you place it in the oven at moderate temperature, you can just forget about it for two or three hours. No stirring necessary.

Open the lid to a divine aroma (and a messy pan, I grant you, but it cleans easily enough if soaked for a while). Carefully remove the lamb to a warm platter, and throw out the herb bouquet and bay leaf. Use a stick blender to make a sauce of the remaining ingredients (or pop into a standing blender and mix). 

Serve the lamb shanks with creamy polenta (as above - recipe here for a "no-stir" polenta recipe or here for slow-cooker polenta from Michele Scicolone). If polenta's not your thing (WHAT?!!), serve with mashed potatoes, noodles or rice, pouring the sauce over all.

Braised Lamb Shanks

2 lamb shanks (about 3/4 pound each)

olive oil, to coat bottom of pan

1 onion, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

2 large carrots, diced

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 cups dry red wine

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

3 or 4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped

3 T. tomato paste

a few sprigs of fresh thyme

1 large sprig of fresh rosemary

1 bay leaf

salt, pepper

In a heavy casserole or Dutch oven, sauté the lamb shanks in a little olive oil until browned. Remove the shanks and add the onion, celery, and carrots to the pan, sautéing until softened. Add the garlic and cook another minute or two.

Place the lamb shanks back into the Dutch oven and add the rest of the ingredients. Place a lid on the top and cook in a 350 degree oven, checking after two hours. It may need another 1/2 hour to one hour until the meat is fork tender.

Remove the meat from the pan, keeping warm on a heated platter. Remove the herbs and with a stick blender, puree the sauce. Serve the sauce over the lamb shanks, with roasted mushrooms and polenta, if desired.

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