Saturday, December 13, 2008
The Transitional Dish: Jonah's Lamb Shanks
A lovely little sunset, hmm? It's not much, but that's the view out our kitchen window each night, and one that's been showing up earlier and earlier each day.
The fall semester is over, and the long windy nights of a Philadelphia winter have made their way back for another year. After weeks of papers, presentations, and projects, all is quiet. The month-long break gives time for reflection and sleep (well, mostly sleep). It's also a time of transition, a time to look back at the previous months and take account, to bask in the glow of what has been accomplished, and to look forward with great anticipation of all that lies ahead.
The Pasta Burner and I have always liked a full house, so our guest bedroom is often occupied by friends from far and wide. People visit for an evening, a few nights, maybe even a whole week, and then someone else comes through. There's something relaxing, lush, enjoyable about having friends stay for days at a time -- without a rush to catch up, you sit around, tell old stories, have a few extra glasses of wine. Besides, the Pasta Burner and I always make too much food for just two people, so hungry guests are always welcome.
A few months ago, our friend Jonah was one of those guests, staying with us for a week. Jonah is one of those rare specimens, a man without pretense, a legitimately good, kind, well-intentioned person. In short, the world could use more Jonahs. While staying with us, Jonah whipped up an excellent dinner one night, a maelstrom based upon mint, honey and vinegar, a tangy, sweet marinade glazed over grilled lamb chops. It was one of those succulent dishes that can't ever quite be replicated, one of those experiments that involves 35 ingredients, was delicious, and might have been an unmitigated disaster if it had had 34 or 36.
Jonah's off traveling now, in a transition of his own, finding the world and his place in it. As we transition here, moving from fall term to winter's hibernation, we think of our friends, their contribution to our lives, and when we'll see them next.
With that in mind, this recipe is inspired by -- and dedicated to -- the one and only Jonah.
Jonah's Lamb Shanks
Makes 2 Shanks
2 Lamb Shanks, about one pound each
1/2 head of Garlic (or a whole head, if you want them nice and garlicky)
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, for roasting garlic
1 Tablespoon Black Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Honey
2 Tablespoons finely chopped mint
1 Tablespoon Salt
1/2 Tablespoon freshly-cracked Black Pepper
1 Teaspoon Paprika (traditional or smoked, your choice)
2 Teaspoons Flour, plus one teaspoon extra for the roux
1 Tablespoon unsalted Butter
1/2 Cup Dry Red Wine
Look at that meat. Mmmm. Good stuff. Take a look at the shape of the cut -- these are lamb shanks, a tough, stringy, fatty piece of meat with a big bone stuck through the center. Or at least, that's how they start. By the end, the fat and gristle melts away, continually basting the meat. What remains is tender, sweet, and unbelievably decadent See the second shot, where all that flesh wraps around the bone? That's good, good stuff there. Shanks are one of my favorite lamb cuts -- they're cheap, low-maintenance, impossible to dry out, and they have a deep, full, rich, absolutely decadent meatiness. Most people braise them in liquid, which is a fail-safe method. That being said, I think roasting makes for a much more flavorful final product.
The first thing you're going to have to do is make roasted garlic. Even if you don't end up making this lamb dish, knowing how to roast garlic is a skill that will always come in handy. Heat your oven up to 425, make a little bowl out of tinfoil, place the garlic inside, pour the three tablespoons of olive oil over the garlic, and pop that baby into the oven. 30-45 minutes later, it'll be nice and golden brown, and your whole kitchen will smell like delicious roasted garlic.
Once you take the garlic out, turn your oven down to 350. It's time to make the marinade. Take the balsamic vinegar, honey, mint, salt, pepper, and paprika, and mix them together. Using a whisk, slowly add the two teaspoons of flour into the mixture, creating a paste. Finally, add in all that good, sweet, roasted garlic, mashing that into the mixture. Below, the vinegar, honey, and mint, coming together.
Sauce the shanks, coating both sides.
Add the half-cup of dry red wine to the baking sheet, taking care NOT to pour it on the actual shanks. To do so at this point will wash the paste off. Wrap the whole thing well with aluminum foil, taking care to seal the sides and ends. Place the shanks in the oven for two hours, and behave yourself -- no peeking! At the end of the time, when you take the foil off, the shanks will look like this:
Not bad, huh? Using a large spoon, take the pan juices, and baste the meat. Place back into the oven, this time uncovered, for another hour, basting every twenty minutes. After that time expires, remove the meat from the oven, transfer to a serving plate, and tent with foil to keep warm.
You should still have all those lovely pan juices, just a little thickened and reduced. Place these into a saucepan and begin to heat. In the meanwhile, start mixing together a roux -- the traditional French method of thickening soups and stocks. Equal parts soft or melted butter and flour always does the trick. For two shanks, use one teaspoon of each. Mix into a paste, and add to the heating pan juices.
The sauce will thicken after about a minute's simmering. Take the foil off of the lamb and pour the pan sauce on. The final product:
The final dish is unbelievably rich and filling -- the Pasta Burner made the brilliant suggestion that the addition of a cooling, light, contrasting sauce on top, such as a Cucumber Raita (click the words for a recipe) or other yogurt-based sauce, like a Tzatziki, would be an excellent addition. (Oh, and if you made that Red Onion Confit from the last post, serving a few of those on the side wouldn't be a bad idea at all. Just saying.)
Well, that's it! I hope you give the recipe a try, and, if you do, serve it to some friends. Until next time, when I think a little dessert from down Rio way will be making an appearance on these pages...
Music: Buddy Guy -- "Mary Had A Little Lamb"