Monday, April 16, 2018

Spring Lamb Means Get Out the Braising Pot!

We had a writer friend from San Francisco visiting for the weekend, and while we'd made plans to go out for dinner Saturday night—note of thanks to Nancy and Randy at Bar Avignon for a fabulous evening—his flight wasn't getting in until late Friday evening, so I volunteered (make that begged) to make dinner that night. Fortunately for us he's an ominivore, so my suggestion of braised lamb shanks was more than acceptable.

Jeff makes a new friend in Oregon.

The original version of this braised dish was created for a big ol' lamb shoulder by my friend Michel, but there was no reason it couldn't be adapted for lamb shanks, too. It's been known among our circle for being the lamb recipe that converts lamb-haters to lamb-lovers—you know who you are, so don't make me name names—and I've heard reliable reports that it's successfully converted others to the ranks of the lamb-loving, as well.

The lamb itself makes a difference, of course, the fresher and more local the better, and there are several farms in the area that raised sheep on pasture, which are your best bets for good meat of any kind. (See the Oregon Pasture Network Product Guide to find a farmer near you.) But it's my belief that the unusual combination of spices like cardamom and cumin and poblano and red peppers takes it to another level entirely. The lamb can definitely stand up to the strong flavors they impart, and the aroma while its cooking is intoxicating, whetting everyone's appetites in advance of the meal.

Fall-off-the-bone tender, I've served it with polenta made from the coarsely ground Amish Butter corn from Ayers Creek Farm, but this time I decided to try pairing it with the farm's parched green wheat (formerly known as frikeh) simmered until it was tender then sautéed with onions, garlic and carrots. Turned out to be a great idea, since the smoky flavor of the grain complemented the lamb and spices perfectly.

Leftovers are rare, but if that should occur I can highly recommend shredding any remaining meat, adding a cup or two of roasted tomatoes and serving over pasta as a lamb ragu. And a reminder: I always love to hear back from you if you make this dish, especially if you have tweaks to make it better, so please leave feedback in the comments below. Enjoy!

Braised Lamb Shanks with Cardamom and Peppers

This lamb recipe is terrific braised and served the same day, but for a real treat make it a day ahead and put it in the refrigerator overnight. Holding it for a day gives the flavors a chance to meld deliciously, and it's easy to remove the bones and solidified fat before reheating.

4-lbs. lamb shanks (or shoulder roast)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 c. chopped onion
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
2 pasilla, ancho or poblano pepper, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp. cardamom pods, crushed, using only the small seeds inside
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 c. dried currants, coarsely chopped
1 c. chicken stock
2 c. roasted tomatoes (approx. one 15-oz. can)
Zest of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Salt and pepper shanks and set aside.

Heat oil in large braising pot or Dutch overn. Add garlic and onion and sauté until tender. Add peppers and sauté until softened. Add cumin and cardamom seeds to the vegetables and sauté briefly. Add canned tomatoes, stock and currants and stir to combine. Place the shanks in a single layer in the pot, if possible, so they are mostly covered. Cover braising pot and place in middle of preheated oven. Braise for at least 3 hours.

Remove lamb from pot and separate the meat from the bones (bones can be discarded or, preferably, composted). Cover and hold in deep, pre-warmed serving platter or bowl. Skim fat from liquid in pan and bring to boil to reduce slightly. Season to taste with additional salt, if needed, and pour over lamb. Sprinkle with lemon zest and serve.

Find more of Michel's outstanding recipes, including her crab cakes, cherry corn salsa and Napa cabbage slaw.

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