Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Braised Lamb Shank

My new favorite Tuesday morning activity! 

I bought these two beautiful lamb shanks a couple months ago.  They were sitting in my freezer just begging to be braised.  Well my lucky little shanks, your wishes have finally come true.  The reason that braising makes these little babies so tender is that the braise liquid gets to 210 degrees and sits at that temperature for at least an hour, in essence melting the collagen and toughness.

Here we go!  Take out a hack saw and clean the blade well.  If you are planning on doing a lot of home butchering you probably want to buy a kitchen hack saw.  Saw off the bottom three inches of the shank - the smaller end not the big fat meaty end.  Once you are finished sawing, rinse the end of the shank.  Bone shards generally don't equal delicious.  You're getting ready to french your lamb shank.

Once you have sawed off the end, take your knife and cut into the meat another two to two and a half inches down.  You are trying to expose the bone so it looks all neat and pretty.  Once you have made an incision around the entire bone start scraping the meat off with your knife.  To do this properly, as I learned in my butchery class, keep your knife at a 90 degree angle to the bone.  As you get close to the end of the bone, you will learn quickly if you took off enough of the end.  If you didn't then you will find it very hard to scrape the meat off.  The bone is encased in a sheath and it is attached quite tightly at the ends.  If you are finding it really hard then just pick up the ol' hacksaw again and cut a little more off.

Conversely you can just ask your butcher to do this whole process for you.  I tend to be a sucker for kitchen projects.
 This is what your shank should look like after you have frenched it.  You also want to remove the outer membrane.  I find sharp scissors work well.
 Toast and then grind your spices.  I have coriander, fennel and black peppercorn.
Coat your lovely frenched shanks in the spice rub and throw a little salt on there.  Heat up a bit of oil in either a dutch oven or a stainless steel pot with a heavy bottom.  Brown your shanks.  You might want to open up a window because it is going to get smoky in your kitchen!
Once the shanks are nice and brown, take them out and put them to the side.  If there are any burnt spices in your pot, wipe them out with a paper towel.  Chop up your onion and brown it nicely.  Then rough chop celery, leek and carrot and peel some garlic.  Throw all of that into your pot and cook until soft.
Pour in some red wine and cook until reduced by half.  Then pour in your stock and place your shanks in the broth.  At this point add some star anise, bay leaf and clove.  I also decided to add a couple anchovies for depth and saltiness.  Cover your pot with foil and a tight-fitting lid.
Cook it low and slow.  I let mine simmer for five hours.  When I went to check on it and the bone fell out of one of the shanks, I felt comfortable calling it done.  At this point, let your braise liquid and shanks cool on the the counter.  Once cool, cover it up and put it in the fridge (your pot should not be sitting out cooling for more than two hours.  If you need to, transfer it to a shallow container to speed up the cooling).

The next day, get your pot out of the fridge and scrape off the hardened fat on top.  Pull out your shanks and heat the braising liquid up enough so that it is easy to pour.  Once it is warm, pour it through a sieve so that it becomes silky smooth.  I decided to cook some sweet potato in the liquid as it reduced.  I had thought that it needed a little sweetness so I got that and a side dish!  With about ten minutes to go add the shank back into the liquid and heat through.  At this point taste your yummy sauce and add salt if it needs it.
Mmmmm, braised lamb shank with sweet potato and leek sauteed with pancetta.  Isn't butchery fun?

You might notice that my recipe is slightly different than the Epicurious one.  I gathered various thoughts on braising and jammed them into one recipe.  Do as you wish.

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