I? Am deeply satisfied.
After all, what’s not satisfying about braised meat? Especially when the recipe for said meat – in this case, lamb shanks – comes from Molly Stevens’ braising bible, All About Braising.
This was actually my first time cooking lamb shanks, which I do admit look a little too obviously like leg bones for comfort; I prefer the anonymity of chops that come from some unknown part of the animal. (At least, unknown to me.) Despite the leg-ness, it will not be the last; it was just too easy, and the result too flavorful, to not prepare again.
Plus, now my tiny fake Christmas tree will smell like curried lamb shanks, a contemporary nod to the spaghetti and meatballs tree of old.
I started off by searing my leg bones in a hot dutch oven until they took on some nice color. While they cooked, I contemplated the large box with my name on it that’s next to the tiny tree – the tree is too small to actually put anything under it – and thought about all the things it could contain that I want. Because I am eight years old, and just shy of actually picking up the box to shake it.*
In my defense, let me also say that my gift impatience has a lot to do with wanting Brian to open his gifts, because I did a KICK ASS JOB buying presents this year and I can’t wait to see his face. I AM THE GIFTMASTER GENERAL.
*Perhaps because it is too heavy to shake. Don’t ask me how I know this.
The now-browned shanks came out of the pot for a few minutes while veg and aromatics went in – carrots, celery and red onion, followed in short order by garlic, bay leaves, thyme and curry powder. I admit that I did not have the specific madras curry powder called for, so I had to use run o’ the mill grocery store curry powder. We can only imagine how much better the finished dish would have been had I been a more industrious shopper.
While I stirred and sauteed, I listened to some horribly cheesy Christmas music – yes, Andy Williams. Because we are an equal opportunity household, there were some (belated) Hanukkah songs mixed in there, including a Don McLean song about each of our inexorable marches toward death that has nothing to do with either holiday but which is titled “Dreidel.” Festive!
I added some tomatoes and stock to the pot, nestled the lamb shanks back in and tucked everything into the oven to gently braise for a few hours.
I took advantage of the down time to stare meaningfully at my present for a few minutes longer before I realized I still had more work to do and turned to the lentils. They’re par cooked on the stove, cooled down and added to the braise for the last 30-40 minutes of cooking; this ensures that they’re not overcooked* but that they still have ample opportunity to pick up the flavors of the braise.
*Which I just wrote THREE TIMES as “overcoked,” NOT THE SAME THING AT ALL.
The lentils were done at the same time that the meat was falling off the bone, so it was time to plate up. A sprinkle of parsley, a lemon wedge (the acid sets off the flavors), a fricking huge hunk of lamb – stick a fork in me and call me done.
As Brian rightly remarked, this is one of the year’s best Smackdowns. The lamb was unbelievably buttery. It paired perfectly with the earthy lentils, which did their duty and soaked up the maximum amount of lamby juice. The carrots and onions lent a hint of welcome sweetness that played off the gamy meat, and the last-minute sprinkle of citrus enlivened the whole.
Tragically, I only made two lamb shanks, which I realize now was boneheaded; if you’re going to braise something for three hours, you should damn well fill the pot up. Plus, you know, no leftovers, which sucks mightily.
But my house smells divine, and I think I have a new traditional Christmas Eve Eve dinner. Thanks, Molly!