Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Braised Lamb Shanks

I have this thing for braising if you hadn't noticed (pork short ribs, duck confit, lamb shanks). There is just something about putting a a big ole chunk of meat in the oven and four hours later it has turned into a meltingly tender meal. The whole house smells so good and feels very homey... enough sappiness, let's talk about eating baby animals!

Lamb shanks are a tougher cut, full of bone and sinew, but very full of flavor. The secret is getting the toughness out and the deliciousness in. Braising tends to cook the flavor out of meat, so a marinade can certainly help keep the meat tasty in itself. It is also important to make a yummy sauce and serve the braised meat pretty hot. The temperature is even more important with lamb since most people don't like the fatty part of it. Personally I like to rub it on my chest and howl at the moon. Getting back to the marinade... I poured about half a bottle of Cab into a pot with sliced onion, bay leaves, garlic, salt, peppercorns, rosemary and brought it to a simmer. I should have burned the alcohol off at this stage, but I was negligent and didn't. Simmering the marinade allows for the flavors to better come out of the added ingredients and meld together. You need to let this cool completely before adding the meat. Just as burning the alcohol off prevents it from "cooking" the meat, you don't want any residual heat in the marinade to do any unwanted cooking. I did however burn the alcohol off after I had seared the shanks and even those these photos aren't in order... here is my first composite image:

After the marinade has cooled completely add your shanks (I put mine in gallon freezer bags) and let marinade 4-6 hours. See you in 4-6 hours... Welcome back! Take your shanks out, pat them dry, and save your marinade. Get your Dutch oven *snicker* nice and hot, add some oil, and sear the shanks on all sides. They look pretty gnarly don't they? Well just wait!

After they are nicely browned remove the shanks and add the marinade in. You want to bring this to a boil for two reasons 1) any impurities from the meat will coagulate and float to the top for you to skim off. Impurities is fancy talk for the brown scum you'll see 2) if you forgot to burn the booze off you can now! See the above image. Once the marinade comes to a boil, light it up! I recommend a stick lighter...

Your oven should be preheating to 350F while you are doing this. Add the shanks back in to the pot. The liquid should come halfway up the shanks. If not perhaps add some water or stock (chicken, veal, beef, veggie, whichever) to get the right amount. I braised my shanks for four hours. The meat is cooked in much less time than that, but the collagen and other chewy things take longer to break down and make the meat tender. It is a good idea to check your hydration level around 3 hours and perhaps add some more liquid in if it looks too low. And then viola!

Mine actually got too dry and I had to add more wine in to make a sauce. However, you pay more attention then I do so you will have a nicely reduced and full of flavor braising liquid for sauce. You can keep it chunky and just spoon it out of your pot with stuff still in it or strain it into a separate pan. I suggest the latter. You can control the sauce better in terms of flavor and consistency. Keep your shanks warm while you do this! Bring the liquid to a simmer and look for viscosity. Does it look thin? Reduce it some more. Does it look thick? Add some water. Once it looks like something you want to slather on your shanks give it a taste and salt/pepper as needed. Serve away!

The finished photos of this post shows the shank (that's the daddy portion up top, and the mommy portion down here) over some beans and stuff. I took a can each of roman and cannellini beans and heated them up with sauteed onions, carrots, celery, rosemary, and chicken stock. They went onto the plate first, then a shank, and finally my sauce which was tasty was too thick. We'll call it a glaze.

We also had leftovers and guess what we did... the usual! Had some peeps over and our appetizer was braised lamb shank tacos! Jefe couldn't wait for the photo so the far one is missing a bite...

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