I’ve always been a fan of Mark Bittman and his minimalist approach to cooking. Not only are his dishes easy to prepare, but the typically limited number of ingredients in his recipes makes for clean, rich flavors
So recently, when my better half passed me Bittman’s recipe for braised lamb with prunes and red wine, I thought it would make the prefect entrée for a dinner party this weekend. Not only did it sound delicious, but its being a braise would allow me to complete the cooking before our guests arrived. (A benefit that’s much appreciated when living in an apartment with an open floor plan.)
When it came time to start making the dish, however, I soon discovered that the recipe as presented on the New York Times “Cooking” website had a few gaps. The first step, browning the meat, didn’t specify any fat or oil in which to brown the meat. If the only fat were to come from the shoulder meat, usually a fatty cut, I was at a loss, since I had trimmed the lamb of most of its fat. I used at least three pounds of shoulder to get the required two pounds of cubed meat.
The everything-in-the-pot approach of the recipe’s second step also gave me some pause. I thought it better to sauté the onions separately, then add the garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and prunes and cook until fragrant. Before returning the meat to the pan with any accumulated juices, I added the wine and broth and made sure to scrape up as much of the flavor-rich fond from the bottom of the pot. A flavor-focused step that I believe should have been included in the recipe.
Following the advice from readers’ comments on the Times website, I also doubled the amount of ginger and cinnamon as well as increasing the number of prunes by 50%. Adding a bit of lemon zest before serving, another reader suggestion, also added a bit of brightness to the finished dish.
Perhaps because of the size of the lamb chunks, I needed to simmer the braise for close to 2 and ¾ hours for the meat to become perfectly tender.
In the end, Bittman’s recipe, improved by the many suggestions from his readers, yielded one of the finest lamb braises I’ve ever had. The meat was succulent, with rich meaty and wine flavors. The prunes added a certain mellowness complemented by notes of spice from the cinnamon and the ginger.
Braised Lamb with Red Wine and Prunes (adapted from a recipe by Mark Bittman on the New York Times “Cooking” website.)
2 pounds lamb shoulder
Freshly ground black pepper
1 chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4 teaspoons minced ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½ cup pitted prunes
1 ½ cup Pinot Noir, or any other dry red wine
½ cup chicken broth, or water
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1. Cut lamb into 2-inch cubes, removing any excess fat.
2. Dry the meat well with paper towels. Season it well with salt and pepper, and brown in a dutch oven, with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, over medium-high heat; remove. Take your time with this step.
3. Add onion and sauté over medium heat until softened and translucent. At the same time begin to scrape up any browned bits left over from browning the meat from the bottom of the pan. About 7 minutes.
4. Add garlic, ginger, cinnamon, salt and pepper; cook until fragrant being careful not to burn the garlic. About 2 minutes.
5. Add the prunes, cook for 1 minute.
6. Add wine, then stock or water, and finish scraping up the fond from the bottom of the pan.
7. Return the browned lamb, along with any accumulated juices, to the pan. When the liquid boils, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until tender, 1 ½ to 2 ¾ hours. Before serving add a pinch of lemon zest.
Serve on warmed plates garnish with parsley.
Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir