I was jonesing for a taste of lamb. My mind raced as I thought about bites of rosy pink frenched lamb chops topped with whispers of decadent bearnaise or thin slices of roasted leg of lamb swiped through puddles of mint demi glace. Hell, I probably would have settled for a cheap food cart lamb gyro saturated with tzatziki sauce.
As much as I adore lamb, I've never prepared it at home for the two of us because Michael doesn't really care for lamb. Well, I assumed he didn't care for lamb.
When I batted my eyes and sheepishly announced that I was making an early morning trip to the Indoor Winter Market in search of local lamb, Michael didn't flinch. Or shudder. At all. Wow. After all of these years, did I miss something?
A lot of folks might not realize that a few vendors at our downtown Indoor Winter Farmers' Market stock and sell locally raised beef, poultry, and lamb. I wanted lamb shanks, which seemed like a tall order. Although Michael seemed game for lamb, I knew he wouldn't have jumped onto my medium rare lamb chop bandwagon. Period. My first foray into the land of lamb-dom for the two of us needed to be a cut that could braise very long and slow.
Quales Farm saved the day with behemoth big-boned meaty Katahdin lamb shanks. Yep. Score.
I was all over the place when thinking about how to prepare the shanks. I thought about masking their slight gamey funk under the multi-layered spices of a sultry Moroccan tagine or disguising them in the complex flavors of a pimenton/saffron Spanish stew. Ultimately, I went with a flavor profile that I hoped would taste both familiar and comforting.
Lamb Shanks Braised in Zinfandel over Rutagaga Puree with Honey-Lime Glazed Rainbow Carrots.
After browning the lamb shanks in a dutch oven over a medium high flame, I removed them to plate before tumbling 2 sliced celery stalks, 3 sliced carrots, and 1 diced onion into the popping residual fatty lamb oil. When the vegetables softened, I added 2 minced garlic cloves and 3 oil-packed anchovie filets. Just before the garlic crisped, I deglazed the pot with 2 cups of zinfandel. When the wine reduced by half, I added 1 1/2 cups beef stock and 4 cups of canned whole San Marzano tomatoes. I brought the braising liquid to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, and seasoned it generously with salt and pepper.
I lowered the shanks into the gently simmering stock before adding fresh rosemary stems and fresh thyme sprigs, After covering the pot, I slid it into a 350 degree oven to braise for 3 1/2 hours.
Every nook and cranny of our home smelled amazing for the entire day. Our large arched kitchen window steamed over from the heat, dripping with invisible flavor. I could almost lick the air.
The hard part? Braised lamb shanks taste better if they rest overnight. It solidifies the fat for easy removal and allows the meat to absorb additional flavor from the pan juices. Really? It just felt wrong. Cook and eat, right? Nope. I pulled the lamb shanks from the oven, carefully removed them to a platter, and strained the juices through a fine sieve. (I saved the spent vegetables for a late night snack). After returning the strained pan sauce to the dutch oven, I submerged the shanks in the liquid, let them cool completely, and covered them before sliding the quasi lamb confit into the refrigerator to rest overnight.
The following night, I pulled the shanks from the refrigerator and carefully tugged them out of their gelatinous cocoon. After skimming the coagulated fat from the surface, I boiled the sauce until it reduced to a demi glace and plunged the shanks back into the simmering thick jus.
The fun part? After throwing together a simple rutabaga puree and a side dish of honey-lime carrots, I poured myself a huge glass of wine, pulled a stool next to the stove, and basted the lamb shanks with the sauce until they were warmed through and lacquered with a deep mahogany glaze. Oh my.
I nestled the lamb shanks over the velvety rutabaga puree and cradled the carrots to the side before finishing with a scattering of deep fried carrot fronds.
With hunks of unctuous meat falling from enormous Flintstone bones, the shanks were ridiculously tender, slightly gamey, and incredibly rich.
While the pillowy rutabaga puree added muted cabbage-like undertones, the carrots awakened the sleepy meat with hints of sweet acidity.