Friday, March 21, 2008

Lamb Shanks with Rosemary

It is said that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. This is especially true in Chicago. We recently had a teaser - a couple of sunny spring days - but today we're back to winter with several inches of snow. Spring, being inherently mercurial, will be on-again off-again until mid-April. There's still time to savor those one-pot bistro-style dishes before we get into grilling this and that and eating lighter fare. A favorite among the stove-top stews are Lamb Shanks, which take especially well to braising. The long slow simmering renders the lamb as supple as butter and the addition of fresh rosemary, thyme, red wine, orange peel and garlic make me feel like an alchemist of sorts, creating a sensation of accomplishment and comfort. I always prepare extra lamb shanks as the leftovers can be made into a marvelous ragu served over pappardelle, at which point I'll be able to transcend comfort and move directly to the higher plane of peace of mind.

Braised Lamb Shanks are not as temperamental as Coq au Vin, less greasy than short ribs, easier on the conscience than Osso Buco and sexier than Pot Roast. It's a dish that begs you to haul out that blue enamel Le Creuset Dutch oven (or if you're really fortunate, a Mauviel copper Dutch oven) that you got for Christmas. I use a 7-quart hard anodized Dutch oven that my mother gave me more than 20 years ago. It's a honey - with high mileage. There are some newer pots that I'm considering that are a bit wider and more accommodating for certain dishes, but my trusty old Dutch oven has yet to fail me.

Braised Lamb Shanks is one of those dishes for which I really don't need a recipe, although I have several recipes in my file which I have used from time to time and they're all excellent. I just wing it and know instinctively how to put this dish together. For the sake of this post, I retraced my steps and penned a recipe which I trust will bring my readers comfort.


6 lamb shanks, about 1 pound (12 to 16 ounces) each
All-purpose flour, for dredging
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Non-iodized salt and freshly-ground pepper
2 large onions, chopped
1 large carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, 1 minced, 2 left whole
2-1/2 cups dry red wine or white vermouth, divided
2-1/2 cups low-salt beef or chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup diced canned tomatoes
2 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar or pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary or 3 teaspoons dried rosemary
3 fresh thyme sprigs or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 Turkish bay leaf (do not use California bay)
1 teaspoon Herbs de Province*
Scant teaspoon grated lemon peel(colored part only)
Scant teaspoon grated orange peel (colored part only)
1/3 cup tawny port (such as Graham's, Dow's, Sandeman's or Warre's)

With a sharp paring knife, cut away the papery parchment covering (the "fell") from the lamb shanks and remove any excess fat. Dredge the shanks in flour and sprinkle them with the salt and pepper. Set aside. Heat the oil in a 6-8 quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the onions. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and sauté the onions until caramelized, about 10-15 minutes. Add the shanks, three at a time, and brown them on all sides. Transfer the shanks to a platter. Add 1 cup of the wine and bring to a boil, scraping up the onions and brown bits. Return the shanks to the dutch oven (they do not have to be in a single layer) along with the carrot, celery, garlic, and the rest of the wine and simmer for 5 minutes at medium heat to reduce the wine. Add the remaining ingredients (except the port) and stir to distribute the tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Add the port. Simmer another 60 to 90 minutes until the lamb is tender when pierced with a fork. Serve with egg noodles, mashed potatoes, polenta, or couscous. The meat from any leftover shanks can be shredded and mixed with the sauce and served over pappardelle or any pasta your heart desires. This dish is even better the second day.

* Herbs de Province is a blend of chervil, rosemary, tarragon, lavender, marjoram, savory and thyme.