Saturday, October 27, 2007

Braised Lamb Shanks with Spices

A little effort and plenty of time is all that is needed to make this soft, rich, aromatic stew. The spices are not hot, but add depth and warmth: allspice, juniper, cinnamon and nutmeg. Something I experimented with here was using celeriac. The previous day I tried it for the first time (at least knowingly) and was surprised by how much I liked it, given my antipathy towards celery on its own. Celery is very useful for rounding out the base of a stew, so I thought, why not try celeriac instead of potatoes and celery? And it was a success: there was nothing missing flavour-wise, and the celeriac held its shape much better than any floury potatoes would, despite being in the pan for the whole cooking time. So, all the taste and less effort - hurrah for celeriac!

If you have only ground spices rather than whole berries, reduce to 1 teaspoon each. Likewise, one teaspoon of ground cinnamon is probably sufficient.

For two hungry people:
  • 2 lamb shanks
  • 1 onion
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1/3 - 1/2 celeriac
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 200ml red wine
  • 250ml weak stock or water
  • 2 teaspoons allspice berries
  • 2 teaspoons juniper berries
  • 2 short or 1 long cinnamon stick
  • good grating (say 1/4 teaspoon) nutmeg
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown soft sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper

  • Chop the onion in half lengthways, then cut each half into about 6 wedges. Peel the carrot, then cut into chunky half-barrels. Peel the celeriac thickly (use a knife not a peeler) and dice coarsely to get chunks about the same size as the carrot. Peel the garlic and chop roughly. Heat the oil in a large saucepan which has a well-fitting lid, or a casserole. It must be large enough that the lamb shanks can be laid down. Briefly fry the vegetables and garlic, sprinkling with salt to prevent browning, until the onion is softening. Remove the vegetables from the pan. Turn up the heat and add the lamb shanks. Brown on each side, about 3 minutes each. Return the vegetables to the saucepan. Roughly bash the allspice and juniper berries up in a pestle and mortar (or in a plastic bag with can or similar), then throw in the pan with the cinnamon sticks broken in half, the bay leaves and the grated nutmeg. Stir round, add the wine and water or stock and the sugar, then bring to the boil. Turn the heat down, cover with the lid and simmer gently for at least 1 hour, ideally 1 1/2 - 2 hours. If the lid is not tightly fitting and the liquid is evaporating quickly just top it up from a hot kettle as necessary. Towards the end of the cooking time taste the liquor and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes with the lid off to allow the sauce to reduce a bit. Serve with fresh green vegetables.

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