December 30, 2010

Christmas is for braising

For Christmas dinner I made Melissa Clark's (by way of the New York Times) 7-hour leg of lamb, in 5. Actually, in about 2.5: the butcher didn't carry large shank-end legs, so I ended substituting four smaller (and quicker-cooking) shanks. These were 2-and-a-half hours well spent. After its long white wine bath with herbs, carrots, parsnips, onions, and olives, the lamb was intensely flavorful, moist, and falling-off-the-bone tender. Insanely and ridiculously good. I am not exaggerating.

I usually braise lamb in red wine, but I might be a convert to white wine braising now - the resulting pan juices were fruitier, lighter, and more delicate, and allowed for the gentle gaminess of the lamb to really shine through.  The onions caramelized and dissolved into the sauce, and the carrots and parsnips emerged sweet and meltingly tender - all perfect for spooning on top of the velvety meat. Two genius touches really brought the dish into crazy-good territory: green olives, tossed in toward the end of cooking, provide a touch of brininess and complexity; and pasted raw garlic, stirred into the pan juices before serving, adds a nice kick of heat and incredible aroma.

Alongside the lamb we had a mash of yukon golds and celery root, into which were folded copious amounts of butter, hot milk, and freshly grated nutmeg. Just right.

I gave the lamb recipe a few tweaks: (1) I browned the seasoned shanks in a little bit of olive oil before braising (I just don't get it when braising recipes leave out the browning of the meat - it doesn't take long and it adds so much flavor); (2) I browned the veggies in the same pot in which I had browned the lamb, then set them aside and (3) deglazed the pot with the wine and stock (rather than boiling them in a separate pot, as the recipe suggested), added the rosemary, sage, and bay leaf, and simmered them together for a few minutes before pouring on top of the lamb and veggies in a big roasting pan. (4) I covered the pan with aluminum foil, roasted at 450 for 30 minutes, then reduced the heat to 325 and cooked for an additional 2 hours, turning the shanks occasionally, until the meat could be pulled apart easily with a fork.

These shanks are pretty incredible. If you're looking for a braised lamb recipe, this one is worth a try.

Charley went bonkers for the shanks, too. Here he is begging for leftovers in his embarrassing Santa hat.


  1. MMMMMMMM,..looks so tasty & truly appetizing!!

    I wish you & your family a Happy 2011 filled with joy, good health & good food!

  2. I shall have to try lamb braised in white wine for the lighter taste. Lamb always means a celebration. Somehow I can smell the aroma from the photo. And how lucky is your dog? He did get a teeny piece, right? Happy 2011. May it bring you and yours all good things.

  3. I agree with you--always brown before braise! I love lamb and can imagine that this dish is phenomenal. I'll have to try it with white wine as well--I never have, but it makes sense! Thanks for sharing this one.

  4. Hi Sophie - thanks and Happy New Year to you too!

    Hi Claudia - lamb always means a celebration to me, too. And don't worry, Charley got his fair share of lamb that night, and then lamb broth (made from the bones) mixed into his dry food. One lucky pup indeed!

    Hi Nancy - I agree, it's just not a braise without browning first!