Sorry, buddy. You're cute. We love to hold you and pet you. And everyone wants your picture. But some of us also want to eat you this time of year.
My idea of a perfect lamb for Easter would be on a spit roasting over an open fire. But we have restrictions on open fires here on the District of Columbia, so I've adapted. And with this April cold snap, I'm passing along one of my all-time favorite lamb treatments, a braised lamb shank from The Union Sqaure Cafe Cookbook that I've cooked many times over the years with great success. I don't know anyone who's had it and didn't love it.
If you like melt-in-your-mouth, falling-off-the-bone lamb, this is the dish for you. It is intensely flavored with garlic, onions and a passel of herbs--rosemary, mint, thyme and parsley. The Union Square Cafe has been a leader back to hearty, full-flavored foods and this dish is a classic example. I'm making it for a family gathering of eight--or double the recipe--accompanied by mashed turnips and potatoes and sweet-and-sour Brussels sprouts. My brother-in-law has promised to bring a classy Bordeaux wine for the occasion.
Serves Four Persons
6 garlic cloves
4 lamb shanks
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for seasoning meat
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for seasoning meat
2 tablespoons flour
extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into medium dice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 cup white wine
3 cups veal stock (or equal parts beef stock and chicken stock)
Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees
Crush one of the garlic cloves and rub it all over the lamb shanks. Season the shanks aggressively with salt and pepper. Dust shanks with flour. Meanwhile, cover the bottom of a heavy pot or Dutch oven with extra-virgin olive oil, about 3 tablespoons. Heat over moderately high heat until oil begins to smoke. Brown shanks all over, in batches if necessary.
Reduce heat. Throw onion and garlic into pot, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add herbs and cook another 5 minutes. Add wine, increase heat to high and boil until liquid is reduced by half. Add stock and bring to boil. Add shanks, cover pot and place in oven.
Cook approximately 3 hours, or until meat is tender but not falling off the bone. Remover lid, increase temperature to 500 and bake another 20 minutes, basting meat thoroughly. Remove pot from oven.
I like to cook the shanks to this point a day or two ahead. I remove the shanks from the pot, seal them with plastic and store in the refrigerator. I strain the cooking liquid into a separate container and place it in the fridge as well. When I'm ready to serve the dish, I remove the meat from the fridge at least a couple of hours ahead to come up to room temperature. Now I can spoon the hardened fat off the chilled cooking liquid. The liquid then goes into a pot, is brought to a boil and reduced by half. Adjust seasoning as necessary.
About 45 minute prior to mealtime, I put the meat in a 200-degree oven to warm, then dress with the hot sauce.
If you can't wait a couple of days, follow the steps for making the dish in advance, then simply strain the cooking liquid and remove the fat with a grease separator or bulb baster as best you can.
I can't think of a simpler, more fool-proof way of serving flavorful lamb for Easter.