As I noticed recently while writing my weblog on Chicken Marsala, I have written 6 Italian recipes and 0 French recipes. While, I’ve tried defending myself by pointing out that this is a budget blog specializing in cooking meals for under 5 dollars a head, not all of French cuisine is foie gras and escargot. In fact, I think most of the really great French cuisine is elevated peasant food: Coq au Vin, Beef Bourguignon, ratatouille, and crepes.
So, it is a bit of a travesty that I have been blogging for a half a year now, and not posted one French dish. I mean, let’s face it, France really is the father of modern dining. With that in mind I have decided to post a French-inspired recipe of my favorite meat of all time: lamb. (Say it with me now, with your best Homer Simpson impression, mmm…Lamb.)
Lamb is a lovely meat. Depending on the cut it can be seared rare, roasted, or slow cooked. I love them all. It’s not the cheapest meat of all time, though unless you live in Australia (where it is cheaper than chicken, I swear.) The shanks (the leg meat) is affordable when you are lucky enough to find it. I am not sure why most grocery stores only carry it about half of the time, but whenever you do find it, is one of the cheapest cuts of lamb.
I remember the first time I bought lamb shanks, I had no idea what I was buying. I was living in Australia with Jodie at the time, and, like I said, lamb was dirt cheap. I had made lamb many ways while we were there. This was when I was very young and had very little experience cooking, mind you. So, I bought two lamb shanks took them home, and promptly seared them rare in a skillet. If you know anything about shank meat, it takes hours for the connective tissue to break down and become the tender amazing flesh we are used to having. Otherwise you are trying to chew on what amounts to gristle. Let’s just say that pizzas were ordered that night.
This is why the French invented braising. Braising is when you take a tough piece of meat full of fat and connective tissues and cook it long and slow until it melts into the meat and creates a tender, buttery sensation in your mouth that English doesn’t have proper words to describe. Peasants often used this method because these cuts of the meat were not considered as desirable to the upper class (who were clearly lazy and dumb.)
Now, if you have been reading my blog, I hope you have noticed that I like to take very traditional foods of any culture and give them my own modern twist. The same is true with my lamb shank.
In France it is traditional to braise your shank with Burgandy wine. (That is there way of saying Pinot Noir, basically…more on that another time.) While I like cooking in wine…I love cooking in beer. So, I replaced the wine with a dark porter or stout. (Such as Guinness or Murphy’s.) Don’t worry, wine fanatics, the resulting shanks will still pair very well with a Pinot Noir. I would recommend Cambria if you can spring for it. Of course, it also pairs perfectly well with whatever beer you cooked it in. I like to serve it with the coarsely chopped vegetables I cooked the lamb in over cous cous. One of my favorite meals I know how to make. Divine. (While I travelled in Europe, my favorite food was Italian in general, but the best meal I had was in France. It is similar in my own kitchen. I prefer Italian, but some of my absolute favorite recipes are French.)
Stout Braised Lamb Shanks
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 lamb shanks
flour for dredging
2 leeks, halved lengthwise and chopped 1/4” thick
6 cloves garlic, halved or quartered
2 carrots, chopped ½“ thick
2 celery ribs, chopped coarsely
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 (12 fluid ounce) bottle stout (such as Guinness®) or porter
1 ¾ cup beef broth
8 to 10 mushrooms, halved or quartered
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
- Dredge lamb shanks in flour.
- Heat oil in a dutch oven or large, wide pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Sear the lamb shanks in the hot oil on all sides until well browned, about 10 minutes. This can be done 2 lamb shanks at a time, if all 4 do not fit in your pot at the same time. After browning, remove lamb shanks and set aside.
- Pour the excess grease from the Dutch oven, if necessary, reduce heat to medium, and stir in the onions and garlic. Cook and stir until the onions have softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the carrots, celery, and tomato paste; continue cooking 5 minutes more.
- Return the lamb shanks to the dutch oven, and pour in the stout beer and beef broth. Add thyme and bay leaf and bring to a simmer over high heat.
- Once the lamb shanks begin to simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the lamb is very tender and nearly falling off of the bone, 2 to 3 hours. Stir the lamb occasionally as it cooks, and add water if needed to keep the cooking liquid from becoming too thick (I rarely find this needed.) You want the cooking liquid to have reduced into a nice sauce by the time the lamb shanks are done. Stir in the mushrooms, rosemary sprig, and salt and pepper to taste during the last 10 minutes of cooking. Remove rosemary, thyme sprigs and bay leaf before serving. Serve shanks and vegetables over cous cous or orzo pasta immediately, passing the remaining sauce.