Jarret d'Agneau (Braised Lamb Shanks)

Not only did I confirm my love of cooking last night, and my decision to turn this into a life-long career (if possible), but I also tried my hand for the first time at braising lamb shanks, which both intimidated and excited me. Still at my parents house, my dad and I decided to invite our next-door neighbor over for dinner. In my opinion, this is not just any neighbor. Olivia English, former co-owner of Olive's restaurant, which she opened with her then-husband and current owner, Todd English, represents in my mind a woman whose culinary experience has exposed her to some of the best food there is, and whose opinion I value regarding my own cooking abilities.

I knew I wanted the main dish to feature a slow-cooked meat, and after some research I had settled on lamb shanks, which, when cooked properly, fall off the bone with just a nudge from the fork, and present a silky, tender, and rich sensation to the palate. Braising lamb shanks in red wine seemed like a luxurious and satisfying option, and one which I hoped would appeal to my gastronomically-inclined guest.

After about 2 1/2 hours in the oven, I pulled out the cast-iron pot and placed it on the stove.  My dad and I anxiously peered over the dish, nervous and excited to discover what results had ensued.  The shanks looked nicely browned and golden on the outside, the aroma was intoxicating, but were they fall-off-the-bone tender?  With a gentle push from a fork, we learned that the meat was willing to dive off the bone with no effort at all.  Phew! 

What ensued I can only describe as joy.  This dish confirmed to me once again that the benefits of eating good food are multiple and important.  Good conversation, satisfied taste buds, and a shared love of what we were putting in our bodies created a sense of peace and satisfaction that left us all in an elated state.

Served alongside broiled asparagus with a balsamic glaze and shaved parmesan, we were wholly satisfied with the meal.  The recipe here is designed for one person - if you have a couple of hours to spare, I hope you try it!

Jarret d'Agneau - serves 1
Scant tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 lamb shank (about 1 pound), trimmed of excess fat, and rubbed with salt and pepper
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 medium carrot, cut cross-wise into large (2-inch) pieces
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp freshly chopped rosemary
1 tsp freshly chopped thyme
1/2-cup dry red wine, such as cabernet sauvignon
3/4 - cups low-sodium chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
1.  Heat the olive oil in a 3 or 4-quart dutch oven or cast-iron pot over medium-high heat.  Once the oil is shimmering, swirl it around to coat the bottom of the pot.  Add two of the shanks, and cook until browned on the outside, about 7 minutes, turning once halfway through.  Place shanks on a plate and repeat with remaining two lamb shanks; set aside on plate.
2.  If there is more than 2 tablespoons of fat on the top, remove the excess.  Place the onions, carrots, herbs, and tomato paste in the pot, and cook, sitrring occasionally, until vegetables are slightly softened, about 4 minutes.
3.  Reduce the heat to medium; add the wine, then the chicken stock, and bring to a simmer.  Add the lamb shank, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover, and braise in the oven for 1 1/2 hours.
4.  Remove the lid, and continue to braise for 1/2 hour longer.  Take the pot out of the oven, and turn over the shanks to brown the other side.  Continue braising until the shanks are extremely tender (and fall off the bone easily), about 20-30 minutes longer.
5.  Remove from oven and let cool for about 15 minutes.  Skim off any excess fat that has risen to the surface, place the pot on the table, and dig in!


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