Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Time to Braise

I am waking these days to the sound of the furnace clicking on. The recent plunge of the mercury adds a sense of urgency around the garden. We are bringing in the last of the tomatoes. The basil needs to be turned into pesto and frozen. We have a sudden taste for the deep flavors that attend the change in seasons.

In the summer, I am not so interested in cooking. I think I could easily survive on tomatoes from the garden, just raw with a little dressing, a shave of Parmesan cheese. Or perhaps some freshly dug potatoes, simply prepared and seasoned with a drizzle of olive oil, some coarse salt.

When cold weather arrives, though, I bring out the big guns, the heavy pot I using for braising. Now it is time to celebrate those tough cuts of meat, the muscles that have been working so hard and need a long, slow cooking to come up tender and moaning in their own unctuous juices.

Lamb shanks are one such cut. They are full of flavor and used to be so inexpensive. But now cooks have discovered them and they are not nearly so cheap, but not so dear that they can't be enjoyed from time to time. They don't need much in the way of treatment to yield a great depth of flavor. One of our favorite places for lamb shanks is a little Egyptian place a few blocks for our home where the food is like home cooking and a generous plate doesn't take a huge bite out of your wallet.

The best recipe for lamb shanks I know is from The Union Square Cafe Cookbook. The finished shanks are extremely rich and tender, falling off the bone, with a great depth of flavor from garlic and herbs. This should be served when you want to fill the house with meaty aromas.

The original recipe calls for cooking the shanks in the oven at 325 degrees, but I usually cook my braises at a lower temperature, around 250.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees

6 garlic cloves
4 lamb shanks
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups sliced onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 cup white wine
3 cups veal stock (or substitute a mix of beef and chicken stock)

Cut one of the garlic cloves in half and rub it all over the lamb shanks. Slice the other cloves thin and set aside. Season the shanks with salt and pepper and dredge in flour.

Over moderately high heat, heat olive oil in a heavy pot or Dutch oven and brown the lamb shanks, in batches if necessary. Remove shanks from pot and set aside.

Toss the onions and sliced garlic into the pot and cook, stirring to scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pot, until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add rosemary, mint, thyme and parsley and cook another 3 or 4 minutes.

Add the wine to the pot, raise the heat and reduce by half. Stir in the veal stock (or beef-chicken stock mix), season with salt and pepper to taste and bring to a simmer. Place shanks in the pot, cover and bake for about 3 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender.

Uncover the pot and turn the oven up to 500 degrees. Let the shanks brown in the oven for about 20 minutes, basting the meat thoroughly with the pot juices every 5 minutes or so.

Remove the shanks from the pot and cover them to stay warm. Strain the pot into a bowl and use a bulb baster to skim off as much fat as possible. Return the gravy to the put and reduce by half over high heat on the stove. Serve the lamb, spooning some of the gravy over the meat and presenting the rest in a sauceboat on the side.


Great Big Veg Challenge said...

A body-warming delicious recipe.
You mentioned freezing pesto. I didnt realise you could do that?
Any advice...

Ed Bruske said...

Yes, Charlotte, we do freeze our pesto. Some people leave out the cheeze and add it back later. We just make our usual pesto cheese-in, then grease ice cube trays with spray oil. Pop the pesto cubes out of the trays and store them in a freezer bag for use later. We've used them a year later and still good, although I would never claim this is the same as eating freshly made pesto, especially the old-fashioned way--with a mortar and pestle.