Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Braised Lamb shanks with leek infused whipped potatoes


Forgive the lazy presentation here... And that tablecloth will be gone soon. This was my first foray into braising, a technique I've been wanting to try my hand at for a while. So I picked up a couple of lamb shanks at the farmers' market last weekend and set about the task. You pros out there, and I know there are at least a couple of you, will no doubt find this a bit pedestrian (I went with a pretty basic preparation here), but any of you fellow amateurs with an interest in, or experience with, this method of cooking meat will want to read on and enjoy. And as always, your comments, snarky or otherwise, are enthusiatically encouraged...

The shanks were from SuDan farms near Canby, OR (owned and operated by, you guessed it, Sue and Dan). Their lamb is grass-fed, hormone-free and guarded by llamas, and can be found on the menus of more than a few of Portland's better restaurants. I had an interesting conversation with the guy manning the stall (I don't think it was Dan) concerning sheep dogs as Burke, between panicked freak-outs, sniffed around the coolers of meat.


Before these bad boys are braised, they need to be seasoned with a little kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, then dredged in flour. They must then be browned. Using a mixture of butter and olive oil, I sauteed them in my large saute pan (which is perfect for paella, incidentally; there's a future post right there...), over pretty high heat. The shanks browned a little more quickly than I'd expected, so I only gave them a couple minutes on each side. Next time I'll tone down the heat a little.


Once the shanks were browned, I set about preparing to saute the mirepoix (two parts onion, one part each carrot and celery). Mise-en-place is a very french term which, for our purposes, basically means nothing more than prepping everything ahead of time and arranging it such that you can grab each ingredient in order, and it's a very good habit to get into. In addition to the mirepoix ingredients, here I've got three cloves of garlic, minced, 1 Tbsp of thyme, 1 1/2 tsp of rosemary, both chopped, and two bay leaves.


The sauteeing of the mirepoix starts with the onion. After removing the shanks, turning the heat down to medium and adding a little butter, I threw in my onion, with some sea salt, and cooked it until it had softened a bit and begun to release some of its moisture, about four minutes. Then I added the celery and carrot and cooked those for another four or five minutes. During all of this, some of the fond, which is to say caramelized bits of meat left behind by the lamb shanks, gets mixed up with the butter and the mirepoix, sort of giving a headstart on the deglazing of the pan. In went the garlic at this point to cook for about a minute before adding the wine. Now I have to interject here. When I added the carrots and celery, I also added another tablespoon each of butter and flour. In a moment of absent-mindedness, that is. This would be normal were I making something like jambalaya, where it's customary to cook the roux along with the mirepoix. However, in this case I had intended to make the roux separately and add it much later while reducing the braising liquid into a sauce. It didn't really throw much of a kink into the works, but if you try this recipe or something like it, you probably don't want to add the roux at this point. At any rate, I next added a cup and a half of indeterminate red wine from a
box (hey, it's organic...), and reduced it for about five minutes. Thanks to that roux, it thickened up to napé, which is what the french call the state of thickness at which a sauce coats the back of a spoon and then... well... it's sort of easier to just show you what napé looks like:


Next I added 4 cups of chicken stock, along with the thyme, rosemary and bay leaves, and put the shanks back into the pan. I brought the liquid to a boil, turned the heat down to medium low and replaced the lid, leaving it just a little ajar. I cooked the shanks this way until the meat came off the bone without much resistance, about two hours. In the meantime, I grabbed the two potatoes I'd picked up at the market on opening weekend, chopped 'em up and threw 'em into boiling water.

While the potatoes were getting their boil on, I finely chopped the white part of one leek and put it into a container with about a half cup of heavy cream. I then "hit it with the stick" as those of us who use immersion blenders like to say, until the cream and the leeks were one foamy, aromatic mass. This was added, along with a little butter and salt, to the potatoes (at this point fully cooked and drained of course), which I then mashed by hand, whipped with a whisk and set into a foil-covered mixing bowl set over a pan of simmering water to keep it at temperature. And okay yes, you're right, these potatoes aren't technically infused with the leeks... By the way, if you have a stick, don't puree/mash potatoes with it. I tried this once and it didn't work out well. It may have been the variety of potato, or more likely the fact that the stick doesn't incorporate nearly as much air as a whisk, but whatever the reason I ended up with a gluey, inedible disaster and haven't used the immersion blender on potatoes since (except in potato-leek soup).

Once the shanks were done braising, I transfered them to a 200F oven, brushing them occasionally with some of the braising liquid to keep them from drying out. I then put the rest of the braising liquid through a cheesecloth lined strainer into a saucepan to begin the process of reducing it into a sauce. This took about twenty minutes at a good rolling boil, the liquid reducing by about half. Once the sauce was at the right consistency, I "finished" it with a little butter.

And voila! Plate and serve.

4 comments:

Alexandra P said...

Sounds incredible!

tommy said...

Why, thank you AP! And welcome to MC. And sorry for all the acronyms. Incidentally, you may or may not have known that acronym stands for "a communication rarely or never yielding meaning." Heh, heh. I never get tired of that one. Oh man, I'm a geek...

But yes, if I may say so, it was tasty. And now I've got a whole bunch of extra lamb reduction in my freezer. A sauce ("sugo") for some future Pecorino/pine nut/spinach ravioli perhaps...

The Pastry Pirate said...

mmmm... immersion blenders... my favorite kitchen power tool. good job!

tommy said...

Yes, everyone, can we get a big round of applause for our friend the immersion blender...

Congratulations on escaping Vegas, by the way (hasn't been a civilized place since the rat pack; not that I'm old enough to know...)! Looking forward to further reports of Hyde Park shenanigans...