Recently, the Missus made an interesting observation; telling me that I really hadn't "cooked" in a while. I was kind of flabbergasted, I'd catered a friends Sukiyaki dinner for twenty that swelled to thirty, even made a huge pot full of Oxtail Soup for my friends. I'd been making a lot of stuff at home. But the Missus quickly noted that much of it was "on the fly" or just stuff I'd made before. And She was right. So I made it a point to, well, really make something, spend some time in the kitchen, and fall in love with the process all over again. I had the perfect muse for my goal; we had just gotten a 9quart French Oven from Le Creuset. I'd coveted one for years, but dreaded spending the money, or to be more frank, asking to spend the money for one. So I did the smart thing, I just waited until the day the Missus said, "you know we need something good to braise in, like a Dutch oven." Man, I got on the Internet and ordered it so fast smoke was coming from my keyboard! I also ordered Molly Stevens James Beard Foundation award winning book, All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking. Even though I've done my share of braising, I love cookbooks, as they give me inspiration, and I really wanted to see what this one had to offer.
The first dish I tried out was the Lamb Shanks Braised with Lentils & Curry, which I paired with some on the fly couscous with sundried tomatoes and pinenuts toasted in roasted garlic olive oil. I'm sorry to say my photos don't do it justice.
My presentation in most of them looks kinda sloppy and the best one is the one above which is actually from a container that the Missus took to work with Her.
I'd made up my mind that I'd do it right this time around, no cutting corners. So things had to start with some lamb stock. On that Saturday, I had ot head of North a bit, so I stopped by PQ Market in Ranchos Penasquitos. A small unassuming market with shelves empty, but a freezer full of beautiful Halal lamb. I got five lamb shanks, about a pound each and three pounds of lamb bones which looked especially clean and the nice gentleman cut into pieces for me. I thawed the shanks in the fridge and the bones on the counter; the weather was very mild so I knew a couple hours would be just fine. Needless to say, I spent the late afternoon first roasting, then lightly simmering the bones making a nice, clear stock. With the French Oven I was able to maintain that light, undisturbed bubbling necessary to create a nice stock. Just strain, cool, and refrigerate overnight, skim off the fat the next morning, and you a stock with the essence of lamb, with a mild, almost sweet flavor.
There are a couple of key points that I enjoyed about the recipe, one was parcooking the lentils and setting aside until the last part of the braise. One of the reasons I dislike lentils is that they are usually served really mushy. The recipe calls for Le Puy Lentils, a highly sought after green lentil(which looks almost black/blue) grown near the town of Le Puy in France. I just went with some good quality green lentils and the results were fine. The other was reinforcing the seal of the pot by laying some parchment paper over the rim, pressing down close to the braise and covering the pot. I also loved the common sense steps in recipe, especially to check in on the braise while it's in the oven to make sure it's not boiling, something that will make the meat fall apart and mushy. It's something I normally do anyway, but it's good to see stuff like that in a cookbook.....it makes it more than a color-by-numbers experience.
I did diverge from the recipe in a couple of ways, I added a whole small can of peeled plum tomatoes which I crushed instead of measuring a cup. Next time, I think I'll add the juices as well as the recipe says to drain. I used six cloves of garlic instead of four, well, I could say because the number four is bad luck in Chinese, but really, if you've read long enough....we love garlic. I used a bit more stock because I knew we'd be running out of the wonderful braising liquid to pour over things, ditto with the lentils. Also, the recipe calls for Madras Curry powder, which I used. But instead of adding them after the aromatics, I added it straight to the oil to "bloom". I did end up cutting down on the total braise time because everything seemed to be coming together quickly and green lentils tend to cook faster than Le Puy lentils.
Anyway, enough with the blah, blah, blah.....
Lamb Shanks Braised with Lentils and Curry
2-3 Tb Extra Virgin Olive Oil
5-6 Lamb Shanks - about a pound a piece
1 large red onion chopped
3 small-medium carrots peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large stalk celery coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2 Tb Madras Curry Powder
1 1/2 Tb chopped fresh thyme
2 Bay leaves
1 14oz can peeled plum tomatoes drained and crushed
3 Cups lamb stock
1 1/2 Cups green lentils
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 325
- Trim lamb shanks if necessary
- Heat the oil in braising pot over medium-high heat. Season the lamb with Salt and Pepper then brown. Do this in batches, turning with thongs. Remove shanks to a plate or pan.
- Pour off all but 2-3 Tb of oil from the pot. Add curry powder stir and allow to bloom for a minute or two.
- Add the onion, carrots, celery to the pot stirring to coat well. This should take 7-9 minutes, it's ok if the vegetables have slightly browned edges.
- Stir in the garlic, 1 Tb of thyme, and bay leaf, stir and cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Add tomatoes and stock. Stir and make sure to scrape off all those lovely bits on the bottom of the pot.
- Bring the pot to a boil and keep at low boil for a few minutes.
- Return the lamb shanks to the pot arranging them in layers if necessary. Don't forget any juices from the lamb on that plate/pan.
- When the liquid returns to a simmer cover with parchment ten the lid and place in the 325 degree oven.
- Check after 15 minutes. The liquid in the pot should be at a gentle simmer. If it is not lower the temperature.
- After one hour, check on the shanks and rearrange, turning the lamb shanks over, and moving the ones on the top to the bottom if layered.
- Continue braising for another hour
- Meanwhile place lentils in a saucepan with 3-4 cups of water, the remaining 1/2Tb of fresh thyme, the remaining bay leaf. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for ten minutes.
- Drain the lentils and spread on a sheet pan, with the bay leaf and let cool.
- After the second hour as passed, remove the lamb shanks from the pot. Skim fat from the liquid then adjust for seasoning.
- Stir in the lentils and place shanks back into pot. Place parchment back on along with lid and braise for additional thirty minutes.
- Check after thirty minutes, the lentils may need another 15 minutes.The lamb shanks should be tender but not falling to pieces off the bone.
- Transfer the shanks to a pan and cover loosely with foil.
- Taste the lentils and liquid and adjust.
- Serve the way you feel like. We served over couscous made with the remaining lamb stock, sun dried tomatoes and pine nuts, along with lemon wedges.
You can garnish with parsley or other herbs to make more colorful....I was just too darned hungry to even care.
You know, this waiting until the Missus "just needs" something has been working out rather well.We recently finally got an immersion blender because She absolutely couldn't live without it. What do you think about my chances of Her needing a Sous Vide Water Oven? Yeah, I might be waiting for a while for that one......
Thanks for reading!