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Sunday, March 08, 2009
A Tasty Failure
Last night's dinner was an attempt to recreate something I've had at a local bistro. There, the lamb shanks were braised in veal stock (and, I'm sure, something else) and served with ratatouille - which was eggplant, zucchini, squash, carrot and caramelized onion prepared with the braising liquid.
Sounds good, no?
Without giving too much away, I didn't get there. I ended up with something that I think anyone would have enjoyed being served in a restauarant, but it didn't hit the notes the bistro's version did, so I'm going back to the drawing board at some point (note: I have two more of these shanks in the freezer to experiment with) to figure it out.
On to the cooking...
Here's a pro-tip for your vegetable prep - take a couple sheets of plastic wrap and lay them down in the bottom of the sink. Toss all your vegetable garbage right in there as you're prepping.
Then, just pull up the corners of the plastic, bunch it up and voila...
No chasing carrot peel off the sides of your sink, no "garbage bowl" getting dirtied. Everything just balls up and goes right into the trash. Of course, this only works if you're able to get yourself to the point where all your veg is rinsed and ready to peel at the same time. Sink can't do double-duty with a layer of saran wrap at the bottom. I like this trick because I use my peeler so quickly that I can't shoot the peelings into a bowl. I need a bigger repository, but it totally sucks to have to pick individual peel pieces out of your sink's stopper and off the walls and such. Why not make it easy?
Here was last night's starting point - two 1lb. lamb shanks. If you look at the one in back, and see the taut layer of fat that runs along the side, you'll see something that looks a lot like silverskin. If you've ever had a beef filet that had a ribbon of something totally inedible running through it - not quite fat, but not at all chewable - that's silverskin. On beef, you trim. On these, I wasn't sure. I hadn't ever worked with lamb shank before, so it was a coin toss. Trim it, and risk losing some percentage of tasty, tasty fat, or leave it be and risk an inedible wrap around my lamb at the end. I chose to leave it be, and it was a good move. Despite the similarity in appearance, this fat wrap totally melted away just like it was supposed to, and kept the meat nice and juicy underneath.
Two weekends ago I went a little bonkers and decided to buy veal bones and make stock. If you believe Michael Ruhlman, and I do, "If there were one ingredient that the home cook could have that would transform absolutely his or her cooking, one that would put it close to the level of the professional chef, it's veal stock. This stock takes the flavors that are already present and, without inflicting its own flavors in braise or a stew or a sauce or a soup, elevates them. It's the selfless stock." Veal bones are also full of young fats and tissues, which gives the stock enhanced gelatinous qualities, which enhance the overall robust texture of any sauce in which you're incorporating the stock. From the pic, you can see I stored some of the end product in ice cube trays, and froze them for future use. I did a really outstanding job with this stock (using Ruhlman's "brown" veal stock recipe - brown = bones browned in the oven first), and when I pulled the cubes there was only a minimum of fat on top of each cube. Good stuff.
Oh, and I defrosted more than I ended up using, but simply returned the stock back to the trays and slipped it back into the freezer. Nice! I've got at least a quart more stock frozen waiting use, so you'll excuse me if I find a reason to work it into everything I do for the next little while.
After all the veg is chopped up (I made vegetable sticks, with the intent of having full sized veg pieces to eat as a side dish), brown the shanks.
This wasn't easy. The irregular shape of the shank prevented a uniform color, as they wouldn't sit comfortably flat in my French oven. This wasn't a big deal ultimately, as the business surrounding the bone on the lower half of the shank was largely fat, and melted off in its entirety over the cooking time.
After that, get the onions going.
Then, once softened, add the vegetable sticks and get the whole thing nice and hot.
It's crucial to get the veg heated up to a decently hot temp, as the next step is to start adding your liquid. Since wine goes first (for deglazing/burning off of alcohol), it's important that the contents of the pot are sufficiently hot enough to help the room-temp wine get up to steady simmer as quickly as possible.
Now, I originally added about 1.5 cups of Barolo. First off, why Barolo? Well, I bought a bunch of it last year August, and I was still sitting on almost a case. Why not treat myself? It's a great cooking wine, as it's dry and awfully flavorful. But I do regret using so damn much of it. I actually outsmarted myself before beginning the whole cooking process. What I did was to add all the raw vegetables and onions to the French oven, then add water to the point that looked right for the lamb to go in. Then, I removed the vegetables and the onions and dumped the water into measuring cups to see how much liquid I was going to need. What I didn't figure on was that vegetables at some state of cooking take up less volume than raw vegetables, and I overestimated the liquid I needed by a solid cup/cup and a half. I noticed this when I dumped the whole 1.5 cups of Barolo in. It filled the French oven over the veg to the point that I could have just added the lamb and been done with it. Seeing as I needed to add veal stock and tomatoes (and the rosemary sprig) as well, I ended up ladling some of the wine out and into the sink.
My beautiful, beautiful wine going down the drain. Sigh...
Anyway, wine cooks off/cooks down, then the veal stock and tomatoes go in and gets brought up to temp. After screwing up my liquid estimate, I just eyeballed this part. The whole thing is then brought up to a bubble.
Bonus here - all the stuff I had to prep to get that braise into the oven, and look how clean my kitchen is. Nice, huh? Also, in the video I mentioned using the parchment paper to hold the browned shanks while the veg/liquid was prepared, saving yourself from dirtying up a plate. I'd also recommend giving parchment paper a try instead of foil to line cookie sheets you're trying not to have to wash after use. I like it better than foil, as the heat is more direct from the cookie sheet (foil doesn't take on as much heat, paper allows the heat to go through more easily), and stuff that tends to stick to foil (freezer bag french fries?) doesn't stick to parchment paper. Oh, and I also use the stuff with my cheese grater on the counter to capture freshly grated Parm or Asiago. Again, just trying not to dirty a plate or cutting board.
I ran these at 325 degrees through three 45-minute cycles, turning after each, with an extra ten min tagged on to the end (no good reason, just wasn't ready to yank them yet). Here's a look at what came out:
So, I took that cup/cup and a half of braising liquid and a tablespoon of butter and reduced them in a saute pan for about five minutes while the shank and veg were under the broiler. Here's what it looked like on the plate, and some final thoughts. The recipe follows.
2 - 1lb lamb shanks
1 small yellow squash
1 medium green zucchini
1 large carrot
2 ribs celery
1 medium white onion
1 sprig of rosemary
3 roma tomatoes, peeled and crushed with their juices
2/3 cup dry red wine (Barolo used here)
2 cups veal stock
salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Wash vegetables, peel carrot and squash. Chop into sticks. Chop onion into large half-orbit slices (there's gotta be a formal name for this cut, but I don't know what it is). Peel tomatoes and crush, holding aside. Salt & pepper lamb shanks.
Heat French oven over med-hi heat, add olive oil. Brown shanks as best possible, remove from oven and hold aside. Add additional olive oil if necessary, then add onion. Cook onion through for 3-5 minutes, then add vegetables. Salt & pepper. Cook until vegetables are hot and softening, approx. 5 minutes. Add red wine, deglaze. Allow alcohol to burn off. Add rosemary sprig, veal stock and tomatoes. Season with salt & pepper. Bring to a steady simmer. Add shanks back to braise, less than 1/4 submerged in the liquid. Press parchment paper down to trap the steam in right to the top of the meat. Cover, place in oven.
Turn the meat over every 45 minutes. Total cooking time = 2:30.
Turn broiler to high. Transfer meat to a cookie sheet. Remove vegetables from liquid and set aside. Add remaining liquid to a saute pan with one tablespoon of butter per 1.5 cups of liquid remaining. Reduce for five to seven minutes while meat is gaining additional color under the broiler. Add sauce back to meat and vegetables while plating.
Bill Simmons @ ESPN
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