Saturday, November 27, 2010

Warming Up in Winter

My first exposure to braising was my mother's version of pot roast, a large top round steak simmered in crushed tomatoes in her favorite kitchen appliance, an electric frying pan. As a working mom trying to feed three hungry kids, she never really had enough time to simmer it until it was fall-apart tender, so what was put on the table was a fairly chewy hunk of well-done beef. Any complaints about the texture were turned aside by my father whose standard line was, "It's good for your jaw muscles."

The breakthrough braising experience for me was a college friend's recipe calling for a packet of Lipton's onion soup and a half bottle of wine. Roasted for a couple of hours in a 400-degree oven, it still wasn't fall-apart tender but was a step up from the version I was raised on.

From there it wasn't a tough climb to conquer Julia Child's recipe for chicken braised in white wine, which, before I learned her version, may or may not have been made with cream of mushroom soup (I'm not admitting to anything here). But I've got to 'fess up that one of my very favorite braised dishes came from my friend Michel, who created a real winter warmer, a lamb shoulder simmered in tomatoes, stock, prunes, peppers and spices that has been the star attraction of many successful dinner parties.

I ran the recipe three years ago, but decided it merited reposting since we had it again the other night and it totally sang. Easy to put together, it would be an ideal candidate for a slow cooker, and walking in the door after a long day in the cube might cause a buckling of the knees, if not a full swoon, from the aroma that fills the house. It's fantastic served with polenta or couscous, but is equally dreamy with mashed potatoes.

Michel's Braised Lamb Shoulder

1 lamb shoulder roast
1 med. onion, coarsely chopped
1 med. red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 pasilla, ancho or poblano pepper, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp. whole cardamom seeds
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 c. prunes
1 c. chicken stock
15 oz. can diced tomatoes (approx. 2 cups)
Zest of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In medium hot braising pot, brown shoulder in olive ol; salt and pepper each side. After first side of lamb is browned, add cumin and cardamom seeds to the oil around the lamb and stir to toast. Add garlic and onion, stir until golden. Add peppers and stir until softened. Add canned tomatoes, stock and prunes and stir. Cover braising pot and place in middle of preheated oven. Simmer in oven at least 3 hours.

Remove lamb from pot. Cover and hold on heated platter. Skim fat from liquid in pan and bring to boil to reduce. Season to taste and pour over lamb.

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