Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Local Lamb with Local Wine

One of my favorite cuts of lamb is the shank, the lower portion of a foreleg. Shanks are almost always braised, and I think represent one of the easiest, yet most impressive dishes you can cook at home. You can get all Middle Eastern if you want with cinnamon sticks, preserved lemons, and olives. But even simply prepared, with no spices other than salt and pepper, maybe a sprig of fresh rosemary, this is delicious comfort food that actually is not at all bad for you (shanks are mostly tough muscle and collagen after you trim the outer fat).

To cook lamb shanks you brown them, remove them from the pot, cook chopped onions and garlic, add an acid (wine or tomatoes work well), stock, the shanks back to the pot, and then cook slowly. That's the basics, the particulars are fun to play with on your own. One thing that I strongly recommend - buy local lamb if at all possible. It tastes fresher and better, more like lamb. And if the lamb is raised without antibiotics or hormones, using sustainable and humane practices...well you get to feel really good about what you eat too. I buy lamb from my farmers market, but when the market is out of season from January - March, my food coop carries lamb from Aberdeen Hill Farms in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. Completely affordable and rosy fleshed tender deliciousness.

Here is the lamb shank technique I recently tried, and it's the one best so far:

1. Trim 4 lamb shanks, leaving a thin outer layer of fat. Rub coarse salt all over the shanks 2 days before cooking. This helps to tenderize the meat. Using a pot you can put in the oven, heat canola or safflower oil to medium/high heat and brown the shanks all over, takes about 10 minutes. Remove them from the pot, pour out fat leaving about 2 tablespoons.

2. Lower the heat to medium and cook finely chopped onions until they're tender and kind of translucent, maybe another 10 minutes.

3. Add 3/4 cup of white wine. Scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to get up all of the browned bits. And yes - white wine. Use red if you like, but I prefer white because the lamb is rich and I want the richness to come from lamb. That's also why I like vegetable stock in this dish. I should have used a finger lakes white, but didn't have one. I used an old friend from Southwest France instead. Add 2 cups of heated but not boiling vegetable stock. Add one entire head of garlic that you cut in half, or add one large clove finely chopped. I like the whole head cut in half, an idea I got from Alice Waters' book The Art of Simple Food. Add a sprig of fresh rosemary, Add a couple of canned San Marzano plum tomatoes - two or three, chopped up. Add a few black peppercorns and one whole dried red chili pepper. Add the shanks back to the pot. The liquid should not completely cover the shanks - maybe two thirds of the way up.

4. Bring to a boil, skim off any scum, cover the pot and put in a 325 degree stove for about 90 minutes. Remove the lid of the pot, add two carrots cut into big pieces, and cook for another hour and half. Remove the shanks and the carrots from the pot. Puree the liquid without the rosemary sprig, but with the chili, peppercorns and garlic. Add salt as you like. That's it - you can eat the lamb right now, or better yet, re-heat it the next day. Braised meat almost always tastes better the next day.

BrooklynLady and I re-heated two of the shanks (you'll notice that we did not puree our braising liquid - blenders wake up babies late on a Sunday night) and ate them with an umami-driven dish of Fregola (Sardinian pasta) cooked with mushrooms and broccoli rabe. We decided to have a New York wine with our local lamb.

2002 Castello di Borghese Cabernet Franc Reserve, $32 from the winery. Borghese's vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island used to be owned by Louisa Hargrave, one of the true pioneers of Long Island wine. I got this bottle during a visit to the winery in summer of 2006. This wine was still very young, and really needed a little over two hours to show well. At first it was disjointed with lots of oak barrel and vanilla, alcohol heat, and pronounced drying tannins. But later on there were nice herbal and raspberry aromas, still some vanilla. The palate is more candied than I would like, but they are red berries nonetheless. There is good acidity and a pleasantly coarse tannic structure. This is perfectly good, but not at all inspiring wine. And at $32, a pass without a doubt.

I'm glad we opted to go local on the wine, and I want to love local Cabernet Franc. But there are so many that I prefer from the Loire Valley, and they are literally half the price. Yes - that's my palate and you might feel differently. I'm going to try some more local vino too, this time in the $15-20 range. If you're in the tri-state area and feel like drinking local wine but aren't sure what to get, check it out Lenn's website. It's a great source for New York wine recommendations.


Sonadora said...

This sounds absolutely fabulous. I've been waiting to read your entry since I saw it in your side bar preview! We love lamb at our house, but I have yet to find local sources of meat at our new place. I should hop on that one soon.

I'm with you on the local Cab Franc. It is often too thin and vegetal for me, though I recently found one from Rappahannock Cellars here that was very tasty.

Joe Manekin said...

LI cab franc vs. CA cab franc? (I can guess your answer)

Have you ever had VA cab franc, like Barboursville? Probably a tough get in New York, but might be interesting to try if you can find it.

Marcus said...

I've got cab franc on the brain lately so LI and VA varietals would be great to try, though it'll take some doing to get my hands on those.

I have tasted CA and ON (Ontario) versions in a blind tasting with the Loire. (Loire won.) I think I've even had Spanish and Italian versions though nothing that I retain to memory.

Tonight I had the Alain Lorieux Chinon Expression 2005. A beauty at $18 CDN after taxes. Neat, colourful, lip-smacking. I'd buy a case.

Brooklynguy said...

hey sonadora - good to see you. i have a tough time period with cab franc. unlike some other wines i enjoy, i find with cab franc that i want the best version of it, or i just don't want it. and to me that means the loire valley wines (some of them, anyway). let me know how the lamb recipe works for you.

hey old skool - LI if i had to choose, although i'm not experienced with CA cab franc. and i've never had virginia wine, any wine.

good to hear that you're drinking wine still Dok. and glad that you're still checking out the loire valley.