This article was published in The Wine Advisor FoodLetter on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/food/tsfl20071129.php.
Herb-infused lamb shanks
Who doesn't like lamb? Quite a few of us, apparently. Consider this telling statistic: In New Zealand, the average consumer chows down on 50 pounds of lamb or mutton annually. The average Australian eats 37 pounds of lamb per year.
The typical British consumer goes through a mere 13 pounds of lamb annually, but that's still a hearty portion compared with the U.S., where per capita consumption is a puny 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per year.
The U.S. sheep-and-lamb industry is actually happy about that, because the numbers are trending gradually upward. Most Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, won't touch any lamb at all, and the, er, lion's share of American lamb is consumed by ethnic communities who adore it - Italian, Greek, Latino, Middle Eastern - along with a few pockets of local lamb production (Texas, Idaho, and, unexpectedly, the western half of Kentucky, where I live) where we've been enjoying lamb all along and wonder what all the fuss is about.
Most lamb-phobes, it seems, fret about the meat's purported "strong, gamey" nature. This seems an odd basis for an aversion in a world where bold, robust flavors and even fiery fare are generally prized.
But what do I know? I like the stuff. And if you aren't already a lamb fancier, today's recipe for lamb shanks might convert you if you give it a chance. In contrast with the tasty but big-as-a-ham lamb leg roast, a lamb shank - the small, drumstick-shaped narrow end of the leg - comes in a handy single-serving package that generally weighs about 1 pound - a scant half-kilo.
This is muscle meat, unlike the tender leg; it requires long, slow roasting, or better yet, braising in moist heat. Give it sufficient time, though, and you'll end up with a good, dinner-size ration of flavorful meat that may be robustly flavored but won't knock you back on your heels. It's an excellent introduction to lamb that may leave you wondering why you were ever skeptical about the stuff.
This recipe makes lamb shanks easy, with a modest investment of a couple of hours cooking time, most of it spent going about your business while the meat gently braises to tenderness and becomes infused with the flavors of fresh herbs and garlic.
PROCEDURE NOTE: If you wish, you can brown the shanks in a little oil with garlic before adding them to the recipe in step 2. This would confer a little additional color and flavor, but I elected to skip it in order to save a few calories and focus the recipe on the more subtle and delicate herb flavors. Try it either way.
1 tablespoon (5 ml) olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 350F ( C). Pour the olive oil into a deep, heavy skillet and spread it around, and throw in the rosemary, thyme, bay leaf and smashed cloves of garlic. (I use a trusty old black iron skillet, technically a "chicken fryer.")
2. It's best to take the lamb ahanks out of the refrigerator a couple of hours before cooking time to allow them to come up toward room temperature. Trim and discard excess fat. Put the shanks in the skillet with the herbs and aromatics, and sprinkle with a little salt, black pepper and dried red-pepper flakes to taste. Pour in the white wine.
3. Put a tight-fitting, heavy cover on the skillet andput it in the oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Check and turn the shanks occasionally, adding a little wine or water if necessary, although there should be plenty of braising liquid. Mine were completely cooked in 1 1/2 hours, although if you give them an extra half-hour or so, they'll be even more tender and infused with flavor.
4. Remove the cover and let the shanks cook uncovered for another 30 minutes or so; the meat will get crispy and brown on the top. You may turn them once, but it's not necessary. With the lid off, the liquid is more likely to evaporate, so keep an eye on it to ensure that things don't start to scorch. There should be enough fat in the bottom of the skillet to deter that, but add a little water if needed.
MATCHING WINE: The Cappellano 2003 "Nebiolo" d'Alba featured in yesterday's 30 Second Wine Advisor made an excellent match, as would any hearty, fruity dry red.
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