Shanks for the Memories

Dinner: October 1, 2010

The first year I lived in New York, Mike took me to Prune for my birthday. It was a freezing winter night and I was laden down with packages that my parents had mailed to my office, which the hostess was kind enough to stash downstairs so they’d be out of the way in the tiny space. The entire night was magical, and made me fall hard for that little restaurant on the Lower East Side, but I was positively bewitched by the lamb I had there.

preserved lemons

It was the sort of dish that wouldn’t look out of place at your grandmother’s house, but underneath its humble exterior was an exotic heart, with warm spices that were familiar but hard to pin down permeating the lusty sauce. I have tried for years to duplicate it, and while the true flavor of the dish I ate that long-ago night at Prune has faded in my memory, I’ve come up with a rendition I adore. Mike brought home some gorgeous Simmons Farm goat shanks from the downtown farmers’ market yesterday, and they were absolutely delicious prepared this way – so good, in fact, I thought they deserved their very own post rather than just a photo in my usual weekend wrap-up.


This is the sort of dish you’ll want to eat from a deep bowl while snuggled in front of a fireplace with someone you love. Don’t be afraid to eat the meat with your fingers, and suck the marrow from the bones.

Braised Goat (or Lamb) with Couscous

1 lb. goat or lamb shanks
Kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1/2 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
1 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1/4 cup finely diced carrot
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1/2 oz. dry white vermouth
1 cup whole peeled tomatoes with juice, lightly crushed
1 stick Ceylon cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup preserved Meyer lemon, seeds removed
12 Castelvetrano olives
Couscous for serving
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Season the shanks heavily with salt and set aside.

Toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a small, dry skillet until fragrant, then grind them in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat until it is shimmering. Pat the shanks dry, add them to the pot, and brown them well on all sides. Remove the shanks to a platter and set aside.

Add the onion and carrot to the pan, season it with a pinch of salt and cook until the onions are translucent. Clear a spot in the bottom of the pan and add the tomato paste, allowing it to caramelize briefly before stirring it through. Sprinkle the ground spices over the vegetables and stir. Add vermouth and let it bubble up, scraping the bottom of the pan. Return the shanks to the pan with any juices that have accumulated on the platter, and add the bay leaf, cinnamon, preserved lemon, and tomatoes.

Add enough water to the pan so that the shanks are covered about 3/4 of the way. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan with a parchment lid, and cook 2-3 hours, until the meat is very tender, stirring occasionally and adding additional water as needed. Add the olives to the pan for the last 30 minutes of cooking time.

Serve over couscous, and garnish with chopped fresh parsley.


Get the Balance Right

Dinner:  February 1, 2010

Juggling the duties of my new position and old position is still a major challenge, but I’m trying hard not to get overwhelmed. I really do find comfort in the kitchen, and while my time and energy have been limited, it is important to me that I still make time to cook for us at least a few nights a week. I’ve given up on getting creative for the time being, instead choosing to turn out some old favorites, uncomplicated meals I can put together almost without thinking about them – like Monday’s onion soup. Onion soup was the very first thing I taught myself to cook, more years ago than I care to admit, and I still get a little thrill every time I dip my spoon through a layer of molten cheese into the rich broth beneath.

Dinner:  February 2, 2010

Tuesday night’s dinner was even easier, thanks to the full day I spent cooking on Sunday. I had cooked up another pot of my new favorite lamb ragu, setting half of it aside to reheat last night, and stashing the rest in the freezer for another time. When I got home from work, I put the ragu in a pan with a glug of red wine, got a pot of water boiling, and caught up with Mike over a cocktail while the sauce simmered. I really love this sauce, and while I’ll never give up the pleasures of a long-simmered beef and pork Bolognese, I think this simple lamb ragu is going to be my go-to meat sauce for pasta. It’s all about options, and balance, right?

Lamb Ragu, Take Two

½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
1-2 T olive oil
Kosher salt
1 T double-concentrated tomato paste
1 lb. ground lamb
1-2 fresh bay leaves (or one small dried)
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
½ cup dry red wine
1 28 oz. can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, with their juice
1 teaspoon Sherry vinegar

Place the celery, carrot, onion, and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse them until they’re very finely chopped. Heat the oil in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan until shimmering, then add the ground up veggies and a big pinch of salt. Stir the veggies through to coat them with oil, and cook for a few minutes until they’re softened. Clear a spot in the bottom of the pan and add the tomato paste, allowing it to toast for a few minutes before stirring it through.

Add the ground lamb, breaking it up with your spoon and stirring until the softened veggies are mixed through. Cook until the lamb has lost its raw, red color, then add the bay leaves, thyme, marjoram, and wine. Bring to just to a boil, then add the tomatoes and their juice, breaking the tomatoes up with your spoon. Add another big pinch of salt, then bring to a boil once again. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the sauce, partially covered, until the sauce is thick and reduced, about an hour or so.

Stir in the Sherry vinegar right at the end, taste and adjust the salt if needed, then serve right away or cool and store in the fridge or freezer.

Note: This makes about 4-5 cups, or enough to sauce 2 lbs. of hot cooked pasta. To reheat, add a couple of cups of the sauce to a hot pan with a half cup or so of wine or water, then cook over medium heat until it cooks down and gets a little caramelized. If you’re going to toss it with pasta, let the sauce get really dry, and then add some of the starchy water to the pan along with the al dente pasta; leave it a little more moist if you’re going to serve it another way (like, for example, over soft polenta).

Desperation Dinner

Dinner:  January 19, 2010

This week is moving by at a dizzying pace. Between our wedding anniversary, the buzz around Cook & Brown and Mike’s involvement in it, and big changes on the horizon at my own job, I’ve barely had the chance to think. I had another meal entirely planned for Tuesday night’s dinner, but as I’ve been spending so much of my time and energy prepping for tonight’s anniversary feast, I got a little weeded and decided to scrap my previous plan in favor of something simpler: lamb ragu from the freezer, thawed and tossed with hot cooked shells, wilted young spinach leaves, and a good hit of grated pecorino. Nothing fancy, but just what the doctor ordered.

Pasta and Meatballs, With a Twist

Dinner:  December 17, 2009

Like chicken soup, it seems almost every culture has it’s own version of meatballs, and lately I’ve been inspired to play around with different variations. These were made with Hopkins Farm lamb, both the meatballs and the sauce infused with the flavors of Greek cuisine, which I served on a bed of orzo. While I was very happy with the flavors of the dish, I want to work a bit on the texture of the meatballs. This one’s getting a do-over very soon.

Chasing a Memory

strained yogurt with dill

My first taste of lamb came in my friend Leah’s kitchen – one of them, anyway – when I was in 5th or 6th grade. Her parents, both college professors, were divorced, and they maintained separate households on either side of East Warren Avenue. Both of them were avid cooks, and I was exposed to all sorts of new flavors during the course of my friendship with Leah (her dad’s fried provolone sandwich really merits it’s own post), but there’s one dish I had when we were hanging out that has been stuck in my head lately.

Leah’s mom referred to it as fried kibbeh, though I recall it being a bit lighter on the bulgur and heavier on the lamb than other versions I’ve tried. The thing that really made her mom Anne’s version special was the filling – each crisp patty was stuffed with a spoonful of yogurt, so when you took a bite, you got the flavors of rich, juicy lamb mingling with a molten, tangy center. It was pretty racy stuff, especially to my newly developing palate, and the memory of it still makes me close my eyes and sigh.

Dinner:  May 13, 2009

So I’m a little sad to report that my first attempt to recreate those swoon-worthy lamb patties was a bit of a disappointment. Oh, sure, they were tasty: the lamb was juicy and flavorful, seasoned with salt and cinnamon, cumin and coriander and a whole mess of finely chopped shallots, but I just couldn’t get that warm, saucy yogurt center to stay intact. I’m eager to try again, though, especially since we get such wonderful yogurt from Narragansett Creamery, and because the bright, fresh flavors of Middle Eastern cuisine are so welcome as we transition into warmer weather.

Making Plans for Nigel

my latest crush

Last week I finally bought a copy of Nigel Slater’s “Real Fast Food,” and I have to say I fell immediately in love with it. I love the fact that it’s compact enough to fit in my (admittedly large) purse so I can peruse it on the subway, and I love the fact that it’s less a collection of “recipes” and more a collection of really fantastic ideas on how to put together ingredients to get something quick and delicious on the table. Life has been hectic lately, and I’ve begun to feel like I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut, but reading this book has been rejuvenating.

Mike, too, has become a big fan of this book, and when he spotted this recipe for Kidneys Cooked with Sherry, he asked me to work it into our meal plan sooner rather than later. I put some fingerlings on to boil when I got home from work last night and then left the kitchen to my husband. As promised, the dish came together quickly and with a minimal amount of fuss, and it was just delicious. Now, if you’re not a fan of organ meats, the texture and rich flavor of the kidneys might be a bit of a challenge, but I found them to be much more mellow than, say, chicken livers, and the sweetness of the onions and sherry provided a lovely contrast.

Dinner:  February 20, 2008

Kidneys Cooked with Sherry
(for 2, with mashed potatoes)
From Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater

8 lamb kidneys, halved and cores removed*
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon flour
1 wineglass of dry sherry (about 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper

Drop the kidneys into the lemon juice and mix well. Leave for at least 10 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a shallow pan and cook the onion until soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook briefly over a medium heat. Turn the heat up to boil away any liquid. Drain the kidneys, dry them on a paper towel, and add them to the pan. Brown the kidneys on all sides, then stir in the flour and add the sherry with an equal amount of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the parsley, taste, and season with salt and pepper.

*The package of kidneys we picked up over the weekend was a little over half a pound and contained 4 kidneys. We felt like we had enough to satisfy us, but we would have liked more so next time around we’ll be sure to buy two packages.

Dietschtoberfest Eve

nice rack

The birthday boy had originally requested brisket, but it was 85 degrees yesterday, so I figured I’d do something a little more appropriate to the weather. He always appreciates a nice rack, so lamb it was.

This was pretty straightforward – I rubbed a paste of garlic, kosher salt, fresh thyme and rosemary, lemon zest and olive oil into the meat and fat side of the lamb, seared it on the fat side in the cast iron skillet about 8 minutes, flipped it and seared it for another three, then chucked it into a 500 degree oven for about 10 minutes. I let it rest for about 5 minutes while I deglazed the pan with some cognac, veal demiglace and balsamic, then sliced it and served the chops with whipped potatoes with feta.

Dinner:  October 7, 2007

Last night’s lamb was a breeze to prepare, but I’m home from work today and already at work on tonight’s meal – suffice it to say it’s a bit more labor intensive. Stay tuned… and Happy Thanksgiving to our friends to the North!