It would be wrong of me to declare winter on the way out. That would assuredly bring several additional feet of snow/sleet hurricanes/what have you depending on geography and disposition and I won’t be responsible for that. Indeed, we in NYC were not spared winter’s wrath with a freak couple-a feet last Thursday. As the sun finally broke through on Sunday it occurred to me that even as we looked out the windows onto snow piles that used to be street-parked cars with out-of-state plates that we didn’t have many weekends left to fill the house with the warmth of the oven and aromas of long, slow roasting before it gets too humid once more and we’d rather subsist on ice chips than light the stove. It may seem far off, but believe me friends, it’s not.
And so, we resolved to give winter a send-off. .. maybe a swan song, maybe a ‘last night in town’. [Ed. – well, you were listening to a lot of Ben Folds Five while you were working on this.] To us, nothing says winter like a nice long braise and so, giving Elizabeth the option to pick the critter du jour, and she selected lamb shanks. I’ve attempted these several times before and I thought, well, if this was to be the last shout, I should put some real consideration into what I was doing and make them extra special.
I altered my standard lamb braise, which is based on modern tomato-containing osso buco. After browning and setting aside the shanks (covered with salt, cumin and flour), I began with less onion than normal, only one medium and two large grated carrots for sweetness. After sauteing I de-glazed with half a bottle of red wine (shoulda used more). I kept the tomatoes, two cans of petite cut like always but added an additional can of beef stock instead of chicken. I added rosemary, some fennel fronds for anise taste and a teaspoon of ground grains of paradise for warmth and spice. I brought it all to a boil, re-added the meat and put the top on my dutch oven for a long thermal haul at 350 F.
Naturally, the long cooking time tenderized the bejeezus out of the lamb and the liquid was rich and wonderful. I removed all the veggies with a spider (that took a while) and what I was left with was the dark flavorful liquid which makes a perfect sauce. I wished I would have used more wine in a vain hope to have had more of the sauce, which while enough to cover the shanks, could be traded as legal currency it’s that good. Also, it’s a bit more traditional to reduce the thin liquid into a thick sauce rather than have it come out thick already. Again, not a big problem, but a thought for next time.
The risotto was a naturally go-with and in the presence of such a flavorful behemoth, we opted the for sharp simplicity of Asiago cheese and little else. I make risotto with vermouth instead of wine, but these flavors and a little rosemary were all I added. The rice was creamy and rich and both withstood and combined with the lamb very well.
And thus, we bid adieu to winter. We may get thirty more inches of snow (seriously though, I hope not…) but in my mind, the long dark nights and windy, shimmering days are in the past for the time being. So position yourself seasonally, friends, look forward to the springtime and until the snow melts, cook on!