All human history attests
That happiness for man,—the hungry sinner!—
Since Eve ate apples, much depends on dinner.
-- Lord Byron, Don Juan. Canto xiii. Stanza 99
(Ed note: Kate Angus is a brilliant poet - I'm especially fond of "Letter to the Younger Me"-- and, as you'll see, a fine cook and baker. A couple of weeks ago we got to talking and she mentioned that she'd inherited a cast-iron Dutch oven. One thing led to a couple of recipes and I asked her to document for us her first attempt at lamb shanks, my "go to" dish. I must say, hers appear to have turned out better than mine! And I'm hoping to prevail upon her to document a pie baking session too. Here's what she writes about cooking lamb shanks.)
About a month ago, I saw Stacey Harwood at the Bloof Books reading at KGB and I confessed (two drinks in) both how frequently I read her Facebook status updates for cooking inspiration and that one of my (many) resolutions this year was to expand my own culinary repertoire. She generously emailed me a recipe from the Union Square Cafe Cookbook for lamb shanks and so, behold, I give you a chronicle of the events of my cooking:
I should begin by stating that I am an excellent baker of pies and cookies and dessert breads (ginger, pumpkin, banana) and a fair hand with making stews and soups and other vegetarian fare, however I learned to cook haphazardly when I lived in a vegan co-op in college and so even though I eat meat now, somehow I’ve always been too intimidated to cook it myself. I was, in essence, until trying this recipe a meat-cooking neophyte. So I did what many amateurs do: I put it off. Since I also believe that, as eating is best enjoyed in good company, so too is cooking, so I waited to try the recipe until I visited my parents in Michigan and could enlist their help. There, I did as I invariably do with all directions: do mostly as I’m told except when I’d rather experiment.
To begin: The first step is to preheat the oven. Simple.
The second step requires rubbing the lamb shanks with a cut garlic clove and then slicing the remaining cloves to set aside. Garlic is important in our family (so much so that my sister once made garlic ice cream for me during some adolescent summer at home), so, although the recipe asks for 6 cloves, I used 10. I also used, as per Stacey’s suggestion, 6 lamb shanks instead of 4. I also used Stacey’s suggestion of Wondra flour to dredge the lamb in.
Step three: Browning the meat. This is the part I initially found intimidating but, actually, it’s pretty easy once you get used to the oil occasionally spitting and hissing at you. My mother and I put two shanks at a time in the Dutch oven and let them sit for about 5 minutes on the first side and 4 or so on the other sides, not moving them after we put them in so each side formed a crust (above, left).
While Mom and I were browning the meat, we enlisted my father to help by chopping the onions. Once chopped, we added them to the sliced garlic and put them aside with the fresh rosemary, mint, and thyme (above, center). After removing the meat from the pan, we tossed in the onions and garlic to soften, and then added the herbs (above, right).
You then add 1 cup white wine (drinking the rest, of course, if you lack storage space for the bottle) and reduce by half. Add in stock (we used chicken, not veal), seasonings like salt and pepper and the shanks, accepting the fact that some of the meat will remain above the liquid--it’s fine, the meat will still be tender. Cover and bake for 2 hours. Uncover the pot and turn the heat up to 500 for 20 minutes, basting the meat with the pan juices every 5 minutes. We then removed the shanks from the pan and let everything cool overnight.
The next day, we skimmed off fat (so much fat! I’ll spare you the picture) from the liquid. We reheated the lamb, making sure not to skip the crucial tasting stage (right). I also made an apple pie to accompany them (Picture 9), using the Better Homes and Garden recipe my grandmother used, but with a little less sugar and the addition of about a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger. We served the lamb with steamed brussels sprouts, a mash of rutabagas and turnips, a simple salad (spinach, avocado, oil & vinegar dressing) and red wine. Delicious.
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