Monday, October 04, 2010

Molly Stevens' Lamb Shanks Braised with Lentils & Curry

Just in time for the cooler, wetter weather -- braised lamb shanks! Soft sweet meat that falls off the bone and hearty, earthy Le Puy Lentils with the exotic perfumey flavor of Madras curry are perfectly suited for autumn. They're exactly what I crave.

As soon as the air begins to cool, I am ready for slow-cooked braises. I'm not sure any other method of cooking works as well to soothe all of your senses. No other method produces as succulent results, and certainly no other method is as forgiving and flexible.

I wasn't always a big fan of lamb. I liked it fine, but I didn't lust for it. Spending all these years with A. changed me -- in so may ways. But pertinent to this conversation -- he turned me into a full-fledged lamb lover.

I am so grateful!

Now that it is fall, I cannot encourage you enough to buy Molly Stevens' James Beard Award-winning, All About Braising. I can state with absolute certainty that this is my favorite cookbook. Stevens gets it right with every recipe. Her directions are easy to follow, extraordinarily thorough, and the results make you look like a brilliant chef.

Just as with all of her recipes, Lamb Shanks Braised with Lentils and Curry follows a strict set of steps. You begin by preparing the meat, and then you brown it. You follow by adding the aromatics, preparing the braise, braising the meat, and then braising the meat and lentils. Appropriately, you end with the finish. All of her recipes follow this map.

In the end my braise was not as soupy as she suggests it should be. It was still absolutely delicious and A.'s family was delighted with our meal. I will however, pay closer attention to how rapidly the braise is bubbling and adjust my oven accordingly in the future.

And there most definitely will be a future.

I served the lamb shanks with a big green salad dressed with an acidic, mustardy vinaigrette, a crusty baguette from Cookbook down the street, and a bottle of Syrah. I only wish I had this simmering away in the oven right now.

Lamb Shanks Braised with Lentils & Curry

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 lamb shanks (about 1 pound each)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large red onion (about 8 ounces), coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder, preferably Madras
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
2 bay leaves
1 cup canned whole peeled tomatoes (about 6), drained and chopped
2 cups lamb, veal, or chicken stock
1/2 pound Le Puy lentils (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Lemon wedges or red wine vinegar for serving (optional)

Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Trim the lamb shanks, removing some of the excess fat (not all of it!)

Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven (6 to 7 quart) over medium heat. When the oil is quite hot, brown the shanks in 2 batches, turning so as to brown all sides, approximately 15 minutes per batch. Transfer the shanks to a platter, but do not stack.

Leave only 2 tablespoons of fat in the pot. Add the onions, carrots, and celery. Stir to coat the vegetables with oil, and cook until slightly browned, about 8 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add the garlic, and cook for 2 minutes stirring occasionally. Stir in the curry powder, 1 tablespoon of the thyme and 1 bay leaf and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and stock, and raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot. Boil for 4 to 5 minutes.

Place the lamb shanks in the pot, along with any juices that have accumulated. Overlap the shanks, if necessary. Bring the liquid to a simmer and cover with parchment paper, pressing down so that it almost touches the lamb and the edges extend about an inch over the sides of the pot. Put the lid on the pot, and cook in the lower third of the oven to braise at a gentle simmer. Check the braise after 15 minutes. If the liquid is braising violently, lower the temperature by 10 or 15 degrees. After 1 hour, turn the shanks over. Continue braising for another hour.

Place the lentils in a saucepan with 6 cups of water, the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of thyme, the remaining bay leaf and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain the lentils and transfer to a plate. Spread them out to stop the cooking and to cool. Set aside.

When the shanks have braised for 2 hours, transfer them to a platter. Skim the fat from the braising liquid. Stir in the lentils, and return the lamb shanks to the pot. Cover again with the parchment and lid. Place the pot in the oven and continue cooking for another 30 to 45 minutes, until the lamb is fork-tender and the lentils are soft but still intact.

Transfer the lamb shanks to a platter to catch any juices, an cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Taste for salt and pepper. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Place the lentils in a deep serving dish and rest the lamb shanks on top. Pour any accumulated juices over the shanks. Sprinkle with parsley and serve. Pass lemon wedges or red wine vinegar at the table, if desired.

Serves 6

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