Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Braised Lamb Shanks

My Dad is the last person I'd expect to keep up with my blog. He doesn't cook. He doesn't read cookbooks. He doesn't watch food TV. But to my great surprise and delight, he turned out to be one of my most dedicated readers. He even reads people's comments! Does he comment himself? All the time, but usually on the phone. He is too shy to post his comments directly here.

Eventually, you get to know your readers, and you know what dishes are likely to get comments from whom. Some people react most strongly to a good picture, some to an unusual ingredient, some to food politics, some to ickiness, some to cuteness, and my Dad to any main ingredient that at some point walked the earth baaaah-ing, moo-ing, oink-ing, or quack-ing, particularly if it's on the bone. He was really upset that my post about a porterhouse didn't get any comments for a while. "Just look at that bone!" he said. "You can see that someone really enjoyed that steak!"

Whenever I post a meat dish, my Dad always asks, "When are you going to cook that for us?" "Next time you come to visit," I always say. But the problem is that my parents only visit a few times a year since they live in Baltimore and we live in Boston. By the time we see each other, I always have more new dishes to make for my Dad than time permits, and I have to balance his carnivorous cravings with my Mom's healthy intentions and requests for fish.

But this time, I am finally writing about a dish that my Dad will get to try very soon. These braised lamb shanks, that I made with my "Tender at the Bone" (a.k.a. "The Meat class"), are currently sitting in my freezer waiting to travel to the Berkshires where we are spending a week with my parents and Sammy. What did my poor class get to eat if the lamb is going to the Berkshires? Don't worry, they didn't go home hungry. I made a batch a day in advance just for them. It was like in a cooking show when you put your pot into a time machine and voila -- 3-4 hours of cooking happen in the matter of 30 seconds. It's one of the perks of teaching the Meat class -- a whole batch of some wonderful braise to save for the right occasion.

Daddy, I know you'll be reading this post and I want to thank you for all your support and inspiration in creating the Meat class.

Braised Lamb Shanks

Serves 4

4 lamb shanks (about 1 Lb each)
2 oz dry porcini mushrooms (if possible wild)
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 celery ribs, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp minced fresh rosemary and/or thyme
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with juice
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cup beef stock
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper

1-4 days before serving:
Set the oven to broil. In a medium bowl, combine the dry mushrooms and 4 cups boiling water. Cover and let sit for 20 minutes while preparing the shanks.

Trim excess fat off the shanks (no need to trim the silver skin). About 1 inch from the skinny end of the shanks, make an incision that goes all the way around the bone (this will free the bone from the meat during cooking and will give you that “frenched” look). Season shanks with salt and pepper and rub with olive oil.

Set the shanks in one layer in a large skillet and place under the broiler until nicely browned, about 7 minutes (if your skillet isn’t large enough, do this in batches). Turn the shanks and brown the other side, about 7 minutes. Keep turning and broiling the shanks until brown all the way around. Remove the shanks from the skillet and set aside. Pour out and discard any fat that accumulated in the skillet. Reduce the oven temperature to 275F.

Set the skillet that you used to broil the shanks over medium-low heat. Add the butter, onion, carrots, and celery. Season with salt and cook stirring occasionally until tender and golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Add garlic and herbs and cook until aromatic, 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook until most of the liquid evaporates and the mixture thickens, 10-15 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook stirring, until it’s evenly distributed over vegetables.

Strain the porcini liquid through a sieve lined with 2 layers of paper towels to catch the grit. Discard the porcini unless you are patient enough to wash every little piece carefully enough to get rid of all the grit. In that case, chop them and add to the skillet with veggies. But don’t worry if you don’t have the time to do this. It’s all about their aroma that’s been released into the liquid anyway.

Add the porcini liquid, the wine, and the stock to the skillet. Bring to a simmer and season with a little salt (go easy on the salt since you’ll be reducing this liquid later). Add the shanks and the bay leaf to the skillet. Wait for the liquid to return to a simmer. Cover and put in the oven for 3-4 hours or until fork tender. Cool for 1 hour. Refrigerate the shanks and the sauce separately uncovered until completely cold, then cover.

The day of serving:
Spoon the fat off the sauce and discard. Put the sauce in a skillet, bring to a boil and cook over medium heat until reduced in half, 15-20 minutes. Taste and correct seasoning. Add the shanks, cover, and cook on medium-low heat turning occasionally until heated through, about 30 minutes.


Anonymous said...

My dear girl,
First of all thank you for such a wonderful "Father's Day in January"! I have to admit, you understand my nature real well (by nature I mean "carnivorous cravings") and I finally have a BIG HOPE of satisfying IT :).
Me and Mom ( who accordingly to you is "THE HEALTHIEST" part of our family) looking forward to have a great time on our vacation with you guys and non-stop eating all the heavenly dishes you'll prepare for us.


Anonymous said...

These look deliscious, nd I'm sure I'll make them soon, what with all this cold weather.

By the by, I'm a long-time lurker, and I'm sorry if I don't ost often enough for your dad to know I appreciate your blog! Trust me, though, New Deal Fish Market appreciates me appreciating you...

Diane said...

The lamb shanks look great. I'm so glad I stumbled upon another Boston blog. Your classes look interesting too.

Warda said...

I made lamb shanks recently but didn't have the "fork tender" texture that I wanted. But I cooked it only for 3 hours, where I should have waited more.
My father also is my biggest fun. Although he may not understand everything that I write(he still lives in Algeria), he will do the effort of reading and reading until he gets it. Then he will ask me to add the recipe to my "to do list when they come for a visit". Dads! They are the sweetest person a daughter could ever wish for.

Have fun with your parents and your family.

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

I reckon your dad is just going to love those lamb shanks - lucky guy!

Helen said...

Oh Daddy! Thanks for such a lovely comment :) We can't wait to see you guys.


Anonymous said...

I love lamb shanks, and yours look delicious! By the way, I tagged you - http://habeasbrulee.com/2008/01/24/seven-7-things-about-me/

Terry at Blue Kitchen said...

You wouldn't be coming to Chicago anytime soon, would you, Helen? Just asking.

These look and sound fabulous. Regarding food cuteness, we once knew someone who would never eat anything that had ever been cute in life--no lamb, no duck, no rabbit. Fortunately for her, cows didn't count as cute. Otherwise, she would have starved.

And I'm totally with your dad regarding meat cooked on the bone. It just adds something wonderful to the flavor.

Helen said...

Hi Terry,

Chicago does sound tempting -- now that's a real meat town, unlike Boston :)


dina (Lucas' mom) said...

Such a good post -- I've always wanted to make something like this but was far too afraid to attempt. I think I will save this recipe and try it for a special occasion.

Anonymous said...

I'm 41 now, and lost my dad when I was 7. I'd give both my arms to be having this conversation with him now in 2008.

Helen said...

Dear Anonymous,

So sorry to hear about your Dad. I can't even imagine how difficult it is to lose a parent so young.


Anonymous said...

I love that you use an alternate stock. I love braising that way, and using alternate gravies when I can, too.

I think it's crazy to glue yourself to using only beef stock with beef, only chicken stock with chicken, etc.

Using alternates can really add something positive to so many dishes.

Lynda said...

I turned to this recipe because a) I'm a subscriber, and b) we love lamb. But I wouldn't have imagined I'd end up with tears in my eyes.

Thanks for sharing a sweet exchange, Helen and Dad.

And thanks, Anonymous, for sharing the longings of those of us who have lost parents. The great thing is that through the special medium of blogging we can imagine an alternate present for ourselves, hm? (In my case, the if-onlys are slightly more bittersweet because my ex-spouse lives in the Berkshires.)

Alas, I don't like tomato-meat combinations, so the recipe itself, ironically, isn't a keeper for me.