Sunday, July 13, 2008

Slowly Does it

Last night, we enjoyed braised lamb shanks cooked in much the same way as I usually prepare them with tomatoes, a little white wine and chicken stock. Jean-Fran├žois commented — after finishing every morsel of meat (poor dogs, only bare bones to chew on) and mopping up every drop of sauce — that it was the best version of this dish I had ever made. What did I do differently?
Nothing, I replied. I always add the seasonings agak-agak, not measuring them — something I do only when testing recipes for cookbooks. Then I realised the difference was that I’d slow-cooked the meat in my terracotta Romertopf dish in a low oven, rather than speeding things up in the pressure cooker as I normally do.

Now don’t expect me to explain the science of it all, why the texture of the meat is so much more melting and the overall flavour so much better when it is cooked slowly in the Romertopf (which the English call a “chicken brick”). But as I remarked in an earlier post, using terracotta to make a sort of clay oven for my bread works wonders.
The recipe for the meat? Slowly brown all over a couple of whole lamb shanks (for 2 people) in a little olive oil in a frying pan. After about 10 minutes, transfer them to the Romertopf or a heavy oven dish (Le Creuset or similar). Add about 1/2 cup dry white wine (or 1/4 cup each dry vermouth and water) to the pan and let it bubble and reduce for a few minutes. Add 2-3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped, and simmer until they soften a little. Add 1/2 cup really good quality chicken stock, salt and pepper and pour this mixture over the lamb shanks. Bake at around 150 C for about 2 hours, until meltingly soft. Check the meat a couple of times and if the sauce is drying out, add more chicken stock.
You can sprinkle the top with a mixture of very finely chopped parsley, garlic and grated lemon zest when serving. I normally do, but although I prepared this mixture last night, I forgot to add it to the meat. Tant pis —no problem — it was superb anyway.

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