Winter finally came to Los Angeles this year, so I made Braised Lamb Shanks with Curried Cauliflower and Roasted Grapes (from a recipe I adapted by Stephanie Izard). Braising lamb shanks can take a good long time when done properly, and it’s an enjoyable process. Perfect for a rainy afternoon because it fills the house with those warm and comforting “come and get it” aromas. Fortunately the rain lasted three days– just long enough for me to make these braised lamb shanks and enjoy the leftovers too.
I know we’ve talked about braising before. But while there’s still a bit of winter lingering in most of North America I figure we should address this cooking technique one more time. It’s a simple process with just a few foolproof steps. The end result is rich and flavorful.
The concept behind braising is this: the main ingredient is seared or browned in fat. It’s then simmered in liquid on low-heat in a covered pot for a very long time. You can choose to braise in the oven or on the top of the stove. Braising is a versatile method of cooking. Even specific recipes, like today’s Braised Lamb Shanks with Curried Cauliflower and Roasted Grapes, are easily adaptable once you have the technique mastered. With braising there’s always some wiggle room to make the dish your own.
Braising is usually my first choice when preparing less expensive, tougher cuts of meat. Now don’t tune out. “Less expensive and tough” are not ways to describe the final product of your braising magic. Braising makes leathery meat– tender. Really, it does. Cooking the meat slow, moist and covered over low heat for a long time breaks down the connective tissue in meat. Through time the moisture and heat build and the collagen (which is what makes the meat “tough”) dissolves into gelatin. The gelatin moves into the sauce and works as a slight thickening agent to make the sauce smooth and velvety.
2011 Brigatti Uva Rara Colline Novaresi
Pairs well with veal chop, prosciutto di Parma, pork with fruit sauce, lamb shank, beef and black bean stir-fry
The key to success is giving it enough time. Because as the meat cooks its fibers begin to expel moisture, thereby causing it to become dry and less flavorful. If you were to pull the meat out of the pan at this point you would be disappointed with the results. But if you give the meat more cooking time these fibers relax and absorb the melted fat as well as the flavorful broth. This process is called osmosis. The long and short of it is that everything re-hydrates and becomes very tender with whatever amazing flavors you put in the braising liquid.
You could stop there. Braised Lamb Shanks are delicious served all on their own with some of that velvety sauce I mentioned and a nice glass of wine. Ken chose an unusual Italian graoe with 2011 Brigatti Uva Rara Colline Novaresi, but one of the more subtle styles of California Cabernet Sauvignons would be nice too. These shanks can also be served casually sitting on top a pile of the cooked grain of your choice. They’re also perfect with any potato you choose to whip up.
However, when layered with an interesting collection of flavors and textures, as in these Braised Lamb Shanks with Curried Cauliflower and Roasted Grapes, braises are elegant make-ahead dinner party fare. Besides, both the roasted grapes and the curried cauliflower are versatile enough to be worked into many other of your favorite dishes. Win/Win. GREG