Sunday, March 05, 2006

Who cares what color its fleece was?

So I'm making braised lamb shanks again. Which I refuse to eat. My parents love it, and it's relatively inexpensive...for people who like lamb, it's great. But I'm still plagued by childhood memories of seeing the lamb's head on my grandparents' kitchen table after we left the dining room and a delicious Easter dinner.

It's been 33 years, but no lamb for me (except gyro meat. Not sure what that is, really, but it's not actually lamb!)

Braising is great for all kinds of tougher meat, from beef shanks to ox tails to stewing meat. Something about the browning, long cooking time and liquid serve to make meat tender and flavorful. It also eliminates the gamey taste lamb can be famous for. Once you get past the browning, it's also easy.

But I mean browning, no half-hearted wussy grey colored meat. If you don't get a good spatter burn while browning then frankly, the meat's not brown enough! ;-)

Since I'm rather bored, don't feel like depressing myself with politics or personal stuff on here, have my recipe:

Braised Lamb Shanks with Leeks and Orzo

4 to 6 lamb shanks, washed well
1 leek bulb, leaves separated, rinsed extremely well, and chopped medium
2 full shallots, peeled and slivered
1 large can tomato paste
1 large (box size) chicken broth
1/2 cup red wine (optional)
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 box orzo
2 tsp olive oil

In heavy roasting pan brown shanks, two or three at a time, in oil over medium to medium high heat, turning on all sides. The browning is for flavor, and oil can be drained afterwards if desired. Remove to plate, and continue browning the rest of the shanks until the outsides are dark brown. You're not cooking them, really. Just flash searing and adding flavor.

In that same pan, on low heat, brown shallots and leeks until clear and softened, about five minutes. Slowly add chicken broth, scraping and deglazing bottom of pan. Stir in tomato paste, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and pepper, rosemary and bay leaves. Add red wine (or water as a substitute). Put shanks in pan, making sure they're mostly covered in liquid.

Now you can either cover, turn the heat to medium and cook on the stove for about 3 hours, reducing heat after 20 minutes or bake in an oven. I usually use the oven. Set to 325, cover the pan tightly with foil or lid, and bake. Check and turn shanks a quarter turn every half hour for 2 hours.

After two hours, pour orzo into sauce, mixing lightly. Cover and bake for 30 more minutes. Remove lid after that time and cook about 30 more minutes, long enough for sauce to reduce around orzo.

The house smells fantastic as you cook this - and even if you hate lamb, like me, the orzo in sauce is pretty great.

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