Lamb Shanks & Orzo

Lamb Shanks & Orzo

While today’s recipe may not readily be associated with late spring, it turned out to be the perfect dish for a mildly chilly San Diego evening. The real impetus behind it though was an incredible sale on lamb shanks at the supermarket that I couldn’t pass up.

When I started to look for recipes I immediately turned to books for slow cookers, but then I came across one for a slow oven braise by Ina Garten that adds orzo to the dish in the final step. As with the aforementioned sale, I couldn’t pass it up.

One thing I realized after making this dish is just how different lamb tastes when braised in the oven for two and a half hours as opposed to being cooked in a slow cooker for eight. Although I can’t deny the convenience of the latter method, the former yields in my opinion a better textured lamb with deeper flavor.

The recipe is from Garten’s cookbook Barefoot Contessa Foolproof but can also be found on the Food Network’s website. My only variations were substituting olive oil for the recipe’s grapeseed oil and, as I was cooking for two, halving the number of lamb shanks. Note that I did not reduce any of the other ingredients as I figured any left-over orzo would make a good weeknight supper.

The Ingredients Prepped

Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 lamb shanks (1 to 1 1/2 pounds each)
3 or more tablespoons grapeseed oil (I substituted olive oil.)
2 tablespoons good olive oil
3 cups chopped yellow onions (2 to 3 onions)
2 cups medium-diced carrots (4 to 5 carrots)
2 cups medium-diced celery (3 stalks)
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, including the liquid
2 cups canned beef broth
1 1/2 cups dry white wine, plus extra for serving
2 bay leaves
2 cups orzo (Use a good quality orzo that will stand up to long cooking.)

Directions

1-Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2-Combine the flour, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in a bowl and dredge the lamb shanks in the mixture, shaking off the excess.

The Shanks Dredged

3-In a large (13-inch) Dutch oven such as Le Creuset, heat 3 tablespoons of the grapeseed oil over medium-high heat. Add 2 lamb shanks and cook for 10 minutes, turning every few minutes, until browned on all sides. Transfer the shanks to a plate, add more grapeseed oil, and brown the remaining 2 shanks. (Don’t rush this step; make sure to get a good brown on the lamb.)

The Shanks Browned

4-Wipe out the Dutch oven with a paper towel, add the olive oil, and heat over medium to medium-high heat.  (Do not be tempted to skip this step as it really does reduce the amount of fat in the final dish.)

5-Add the onions, carrots, celery, and rosemary and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute.

Adding the Vegetables and Herbs

6-Add the tomatoes, beef broth, wine, 4 teaspoons salt, and 2 teaspoons pepper. Add the lamb shanks, arranging them so they’re almost completely submerged in the liquid. Tuck in the bay leaves and bring to a simmer on top of the stove.

Lamb Shanks Submerged

7-Cover the pot and place it in the oven for 2 hours, turning the shanks once while they cook.

8-Stir in the orzo and return the lamb shanks to the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the orzo is cooked and the lamb shanks are very tender. Discard the bay leaves, stir in 2 to 3 tablespoons of white wine, and taste the orzo for seasonings. Serve hot.

The Finished Dish

Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir

The Dish Finished

Leftover Roast Lamb with Tomatoes, Scallions, and Parsley

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Last week, we acquired a new (“used” would be more accurate) kitchen appliance, a vintage Farberware open-hearth grill and rotisserie. Actually it is a replacement for the one I had in storage, which hurricane Sandy “washed” away a while back. I came across this one on e-bay while I was searching for something totally unrelated to cooking, which made me feel that fate brought us together.

The fact that this rotisserie cooks a hefty roast or whole chicken without any smoke and a minimum amount of heat and is easy to clean and store makes it perfect for a NYC-apartment kitchen, where smoke alarms are overly sensitive and space is at a premium.

The first food I cooked on this one is the same that I made on my last one: a roast boneless leg of lamb. Because I wasn’t sure if this used appliance would work, we didn’t take any photos of the lamb and its preparation until its final minutes of cooking. But after a little more than an hour of steadily turning over the glowing cooking element, the roast was a thing of beauty.

Lamb on the rotisserie
Lamb on the rotisserie

The recipe I used is by Joshua Bousel on Seriouseats.com and is relatively simple. That it uses only a marinade to flavor and baste the meat, as opposed to making holes in the meat for stuffing it with herbs and garlic, keeps the leg juicer during cooking on the spit. Basting it every fifteen minutes with some reserved marinade and a brush made from fresh herbs also helps. While the original recipe is for an outdoor gas grill/rotisserie, I adapted it for my indoor one.

Because we had plenty of meat left over from this 4.5-pound roast, I turned to one of my older cookbooks for a recipe. Published in 1967, a time when America seemed to rediscover serious cooking, Michael Field’s Culinary Classics and Improvisations is a collection of classic recipes for meats, poultry, fish, and vegetables, each of which is followed by a variety of improvisations for the leftovers from the classic dish. Many of these improvisations, like the one I chose for my leftover lamb, reflect America’s fascination at that time with international cuisine. Today, however, many may question these recipes’ authenticity or their ethnic accuracy. Yet one must remember that when Field wrote his book, a lot of the imported ingredients and spices we readily find today, not only in gourmet shops but even in supermarkets, were not widely available.

Field titled this improvisation for leftover roasted lamb, “Lamb in a Skillet with Fresh Tomatoes, Scallions, and Parsley in the Turkish Style.” I must confess that I cannot explain what is Turkish about this dish. Nonetheless, it has long been one of my favorites for repurposing a leftover roast.

In his recipe, Field calls for peeled, seeded, and cut tomatoes and provides instructions for peeling. However, while I cut and seeded the tomatoes as directed, I opted to skip the peeling.

Lamb in a Skillet with Fresh Tomatoes, Scallions, and Parsley in the Turkish Style (from Michael Field’s Culinary Classics and Improvisations)

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2 cups roast leg of lamb cut into ¾- to 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
Salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cut into julienne strips 1 inch by ½ inch
½ cup scallions, cut into paper-thin rounds (include some of the green stem also)
½ cup parsley (flat-leaf is possible), coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon lemon peel, grated
Lemon quarters

Prepped ingredients
Prepped ingredients

Combine in a small bowl the pieces of lamb, the chopped garlic, salt to taste, and the freshly ground pepper. Mix together thoroughly.

The seasoned lamb
The seasoned lamb

Choose a 10-inch traditional sauté pan or any deep heavy frying pan attractive enough to bring to the table.

Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in the pan until it almost begins to smoke. Add the seasoned lamb and, over high heat, brown the pieces quickly, turning them with a large spoon or spatula for about 8 minutes, taking care not to let them burn.

The browned lamb
The browned lamb

Toss in the tomato strips* and, stirring continuously, cook them for about 3 minutes with the lamb; they should be barely cooked through and should retain more than a hint of their original texture and freshness.

Lamb with tomatoes
Lamb with tomatoes

With a spatula, push the meat and tomatoes toward the center of pan and surround them with the scallions and parsley, arranged in a ring. Sprinkle meat with the lemon peel and cover the pan tightly.

After adding the parsley, scallions, and lemon zest
After adding the parsley, scallions, and lemon zest

Turn off the heat and let the residual heat in the pan warm the herbs through. Serve directly from the pan after about 5 minutes.

The finished dish
The finished dish

Lemon quarters are the perfect accompaniment to the lamb and French or Italian bread should be served to sop up the tomato and herb-flavored olive oil.

*Note: To prepare the tomatoes, drop them into boiling water for about ten minutes. Peel them at once and cut them into quarters. Run a small sharp knife under the pulp of each quarter and cut it away, leaving the thin outer shell of the tomato. Cut the shells into julienne strips and use the tomato pulp for other purposes.

As I said earlier, I skipped the blanching and peeling of the tomatoes to preserve their texture. I also added a bit of cumin to the initial seasoning of the lamb and, as may be seen in the photos, took some liberties with measuring the ingredients. Finally, rather than serving bread, I opted for basmati rice to sop up the delicious sauce.

Field’s book is out of print, but can be found used here on Amazon: Michael Field’s Culinary Classics and Improvisations, Creative Leftovers Made From Main Course Masterpieces, 1967.

Wine Pairing: A cru Beaujolais, Pinot Noir

Lamb Shanks with Sweet and Sour Onions

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You’ve probably been counseled by other food bloggers or cooking enthusiasts to let what looks good on any given day at your market determine what you’ll cook that night. I more or less agree with this advice, but I must admit that it definitely helps to have high-quality markets nearby. Fortunately, I live in downtown New York, where I’m surrounded by some of the city’s finest fish mongers, green grocers, and butchers, which makes being inspired by their offerings relatively easy.

Such was the case the other day when I went to my butcher, Dickson’s Farmstand Meats located in Chelsea Market, looking for inspiration. They’re know for locally sourced, humanely raised meats, and I wasn’t there long before I espied and bought some meaty lamb shanks.

As I walked home, I started to consider how to prepare them. For me, braising was the obvious choice, but I wasn’t quite sure what to braise them with. So when I got home, I looked through some of my go-to books for braising and found an appealing recipe in Michele Scicolone’s The Mediterranean Slow Cooker: “Lamb Shanks with Sweet and Sour Onions.”

The recipe calls for just a few ingredients with which to cook the lamb: red onions, garlic, rosemary, red wine, and balsamic vinegar.

The Ingredients
The Ingredients

The minimal prep also made the recipe attractive: browning the onions and then combing them with the garlic (minced), the rosemary (chopped), the red wine (dry), and the balsamic vinegar. Since the vinegar plays a leading role in flavoring this dish, I recommend using a good quality balsamic.

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Browning the onions
Onions with the wine, balsamic, and rosemary
Onions with the wine, balsamic, and rosemary

Cooked on low for 8 hours, the shanks become tender and succulent and their distinctive meaty flavors are perfectly complemented by the sweet-and-sour onions and braising liquid.

I served the shanks with polenta, made creamy with butter, cream, and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Wine Pairing: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Lamb Shanks with White Beans and Gremolata

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Sometimes what I choose to prepare for dinner is determined by finding something in the fridge that needs to be used up. Such was the case yesterday when I found a week-old container of mirepoix (diced onions, carrots, and celery). I considered several options, including a bean soup and pasta sauce, but then I thought why not something braised, cooked low and slow. After checking a few cookbooks for recipes, I finally settled upon one I found in Michele Scicolone’s The Italian Slow Cooker: “Lamb Shanks with White Bean and Gremolata.” My only concern was being able to find the lamb shanks early on Sunday morning. Fortunately, I was able to grab the last four shanks available at my local market.

They were from Icelandic lamb, which I discovered is a seasonal special that ’s available at Whole Foods from late September to October. They met the recipe’s size requirements (small, about 1 pound each) and were surprisingly lean. This was my first encounter with this variety of lamb and I’m happy to report that it was rich in flavor and not as gamey as some other varieties, which I believe contributed to the success of the dish. There was a prefect balance of flavors among the meat, the vegetables, beans, braising liquid, and the bright gremolata (a mix of minced garlic, lemon zest, and parsley.)

I think the next time I prepare this dish, I’ll brown the shanks before slow cooking them to develop their flavor a little more. However, even without this step, the lamb was delicious.

Lamb Shanks with White Beans and Gremolata from The Italian Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone

Serves 4

1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium rib of celery, chopped (My mirepoix contained a little more of each of these ingredients.)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 3-inch fresh rosemary sprig
4 small lamb shanks (about 1 pound each)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup meat broth or canned beef broth (I opted for the canned broth.)
1 cup dry red wine (I used a red-blend from California.)
2 tablespoons tomato paste (I use the imported concentrated paste.)
4 cups cooked white beans or canned beans, drained (I used a can of Goya “Small White Beans.” When using canned beans, I always rinse them under cold water.)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (Italian flat-leaf parsley is best.)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Scatter the vegetables, chopped garlic, and rosemary in a slow cooker. (I lightly salted the vegetables.)

The chopped vegetables, garlic, and rosemary
The chopped vegetables, garlic, and rosemary

Trim the shanks, pat them dry with paper towels, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

The lambs shanks, before seasoning
The lambs shanks, before seasoning

Arrange the shanks in a single layer on top of the vegetables.

Combine the broth, wine, and tomato paste with a whisk in a bowl. Pour the mixture over the lamb and cook on low for 8 hours, or until the lamb is very tender and coming away from the bone.

The shanks atop the braising liquid.
The shanks atop the braising liquid.

Remove the shanks from the cooker and place on a serving platter. Cover and keep warm.

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Skim the fat off the the surface of the liquid in the cooker. Turn the heat to high. Stir in the beans and cook until thoroughly heated through.

Meanwhile chop the parsley and garlic, and combine with the grated lemon zest.

The gremolata components
The gremolata components

Stir half of the mix into the beans.

The beans mixed with the gremolata
The beans mixed with the gremolata

To serve, pour the beans over the lamb and sprinkle with the remaining gremolata. Serve hot.

Wine Pairing: Dolcetto, or a cru Beaujolais

Pressure Cooker Lamb & White Bean Stew

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Even in summer, I occasionally enjoy a hearty dish like stew—especially on a dark and stormy night or when life’s been unfair and only comfort food can make it better. On one of those days, an easy and relatively quick lamb and white-bean stew from Jacques Pépin’s Fast Food My Wayseemed to fit the bill.

What especially appealed to me about the dish is that it’s made in a pressure cooker and did not require browning the meat. Using the pressure cooker not only kept the kitchen cool but also made it possible to use dried beans without any overnight soaking.

Pressure Cooker Lamb and White-Bean Stew from Jacques Pépin Fast Food My Way
4 shoulder lamb chops (about 2 pounds total), trimmed of fat
1 1/2 cups (about 1/2 pound) dried white beans, such as navy or great northern, picked over and washed under cold running water (I opted for great northern.)
2 cups canned diced tomatoes
1 cup diced (1-inch) onion
1 cup diced (1-inch) trimmed and washed leek
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
1 sprig fresh thyme and 1 sprig fresh sage, or 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence (I used the thyme and sage.)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
3 cups cold water

The lamb chops
The lamb chops

Put all the ingredients in a pressure cooker, cover tightly with the pressure-cooker lid, and cook over high heat until the gauge indicates that the stew is cooking on high pressure. Reduce the heat to low and cook the stew for 40 minutes. (I used an electric pressure cooker set on high and set the timer for 40 minutes.)

Beans, herbs, aromatics, and seasoning
Beans, herbs, aromatics, and seasoning

Decompress the pressure cooker according to manufacturer’s instructions. I do mine in the sink so the steam is contained somewhat as it is emitted. Open the pressure cooker and let the stew rest for a few minutes until the fat rises to the surface. Spoon off and discard as much fat as possible and taste the stew for seasonings, adding more salt and pepper as needed. Serve hot. (After the 40 minutes cooking time, I let stew rest a few minutes and then used my pressure cooker’s quick release valve.)

In his introduction to the recipe, Pepin advises to use the full 3 cups of water so that the beans will cook properly. Consequently, this makes for a rather thin sauce that is perfect for sopping up with crusty bread or, as I did, with couscous.

Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir

Baked Lamb Shanks

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Our local butcher had some really good looking lamb shanks on Saturday that I could not resist. Originally, I thought I would braise them, until I came across a recipe from Jaime Oliver’s Cook with Jaime.  This recipe calls for baking them, stuffed with some herb butter, atop of bed of finely sliced aromatics moistened with a few splashes of white wine, in individual foil packets.

What I liked especially about Oliver’s approach was that it highlights the meaty flavor of the lamb. Unlike as in so many braising recipes, there are no spices, tomatoes, or broth.

Once again, my poor timing had us dining quite late so I served the shanks, as suggested in the recipe, in their foil packets, with a side of couscous with raisins.

Baked Lamb Shanks Modified from Cook with Jaime

Ingredients

6 sprigs fresh rosemary

100 g cold butter

15 fresh sage leaves

2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

4 quality lamb shanks, crown- or French-trimmed

12 cloves garlic, unpeeled

2 large carrots, peeled and finely sliced

1 onion, peeled and finely sliced

1 leek, washed, halved and finely sliced

extra virgin olive oil

8 ounces dry white wine

Note: I recommend using a mandolin to cut the leek, onion, and carrots into uniform 1/8 inch slices to ensure even and thorough cooking.

Method

Preheat your oven to 350ºF.

The ingredients
The ingredients

Pick the leaves off 2 sprigs of rosemary, pulse them with the butter, most of the sage and the thyme in a food processor and season with salt and pepper. You want to have a few sage leaves and thyme leaves to add with the remaining rosemary springs to the individual packets.

The herb butter--yes it's a lot
The herb butter–yes it’s a lot

Using a small knife (I used a boning knife), take one of the lamb shanks and cut between the meat and the bone from the base of the shank upwards. You want to create a hole big enough to put your finger in, making a sort of pocket. Do this to all the shanks and divide the flavored butter between them, pushing it into the pockets. This will give a wonderful flavor to the heart of the shanks.

The stuffed shanks
The stuffed shanks

Tear off four 12” x 16” pieces of heavy duty foil. Divide the garlic and veg between them, making a pile in the middle of each piece. Rub the lamb shanks with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, then put one on top of each pile of veg and a sprig of rosemary and a few sage leaves on top of that.

A filled packet
A filled packet

Carefully pull up the sides of the foil around the shank and pour a swig of wine into each. Gather the foil around the bone, pinching it together tightly. Any excess foil can be torn or cut off with scissors. Repeat for all 4 shanks, then place the foil parcels on a baking tray with the bones facing up.

The wrapped shanks
The wrapped shanks

Put in the preheated oven for 2½ hours or until the meat is as tender as can be. Serve the parcels in the middle of the table so that your guests can open them up themselves.

Wine Pairing: A cru Beaujolais (e.g., Fleurie, Brouilly)

Grilled Lamb Chops Scottaditto

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At our home, grilled lamb chops are a favorite Sunday night supper. They’re simple to prepare, quick to cook, and, when on sale as they were yesterday, irresistible.

These grilled baby lamb chops are indeed so good that you can’t wait to pick them up and, when you do, may likely risk burning your fingers. In fact, that’s why in Italy they’re sometimes labeled “scottadito” or “burnt finger.”

This is also a great dish for informal entertaining as it takes only a few minutes a side to grill the chops. In keeping with the “finger-food” theme, I generally serve the lamb chops with roasted asparagus.

Here are my recipes, minus exact measurements. The amount of oil, seasoning, herbs and cheese will be determined by the quantity of chops and asparagus that you are preparing.

For the chops:

Bring the chops to room temperature an hour or so before grilling. During this hour, marinate the chops seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little ground cumin in extra-virgin olive oil, lemon zest, and rosemary.

Chops marinating
Chops marinating

Heat a grill pan and grill the chops over medium hight heat for about 3 minutes a side. The exact time will be determined by the thickness of the chops.

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Chops on the grill

When done, place on heated plates and serve with a small dollop of pesto on each chop.

For the asparagus:

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Wash and dry the asparagus. Trim the spears by snapping off the tough lower parts. Place in a baking pan and season with salt and freshly ground nutmeg. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil turning the spears to distribute the oil and the seasoning.

Grate a generous amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano over the asparagus and roast for about 15 minutes. The thickness of the asparagus will determine the exact cooking time.

Asparagus before roasting
Asparagus before roasting

Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir