There’s nothing like a cloudy, nippy day for braising some meat—or veggies—in the oven. It’s a perfect time to use the Le Creuset cast-iron pots (seriously, are they ever going to contact me? I mention them every other blog, at least!), load them up with goodness and let them do their thing in the oven.
And what a lovely “thing” that is. I wasn’t sure about posting this one, but after just making it again for The Mother-In-Law’s birthday dinner, I changed my mind. Plus, the first time I made it, The Husband had not only finished his meal first, he ate all his lamb. All of it. And he never does that, so I felt that perhaps the dish would make the blog after all.
Vegetarians, the braised fennel in this comes out wonderfully, and you could definitely add more, and perhaps some celeriac would be nice. For stock, I would really recommend mushroom stock, either home made or the Better Than Bouillon brand.
Meat eaters, I cannot think of an appropriate vessel to use besides a cast-iron pot with lid. If you don’t have one, invest in one. They even sell them at Costco now. They’ll last forever—the ones I have lasted longer than my first marriage, and perhaps they’ll outlast my second too, and I don’t intend to ever divorce The Husband I have now.
Without further ado, here’s a braised lamb shanks recipe with fennel and mash to accompany it:
Braised Lamb Shanks with Fennel
2 lamb shanks, 3/4 lb. each*
1 medium brown onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 small rutabaga, chopped (or swede, for those of you on the other side of the pond)
1 head of garlic, cut horizontally and unpeeled
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/2 cup of red wine
1/2 an orange, peeled and cut in half
1/2 tsp. fennel seed
1 small cinnamon stick
2.5 cups of chicken or beef stock (preferably organic)
1 large bulb of fennel, sliced vertically and thickly
2 Tbs of butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Salt and pepper the lamb on all sides. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a cast-iron pan on the stove top. Put on an apron, because this next bit will cause some spatter. Add the shanks and turn them only when they are browned on a side, rotating them until the shanks are browned all over. You can even stand them up in the pan so the flat end gets browned also.
Take the shanks out and set on a plate; you don’t have to cover them or keep them warm. They’ll be back in the pot soon enough. Allow the oil to cool for a few minutes and add the butter. Add the onion, carrot, rutabaga and garlic; sauté until they soften and start to get brown, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and the thyme and bring to a boil for about 4 minutes.
Add the shanks back in along with the orange, fennel seeds and cinnamon, then pour the stock on top. Bring to a boil, then cover and put in a preheated 375 degree F oven. Let cook for 1 and a half hours and then pull out of the oven. Take the shanks out and put on a plate, but this time keep them covered with some foil.
Pull out any of the garlic husks, squeezing out the garlic and discarding the papery peels. Pull out the thyme sprigs and the orange, if it’s still in chunks, and add the fennel. Cook this on the stovetop for about 15 minutes on medium to high heat, so the braising liquid is cooking the fennel.
Once the fennel is nearly done, add the shanks back in for a few minutes to warm them up and get them coated in the sauce. Serve on a bed of creamy polenta or mash; two recipes follow.
Potato and Rutabaga Mash
3 medium Russet potatoes
1 large rutabaga, larger than your fist
A small round of herbed chevre, about 4 oz., or to your taste
2 Tbs butter
3 Tbs milk
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peel the vegetables and cut them into small chunks. You don’t have to make this a precision cutting job, as they will be mashed soon enough. Put the rutabaga in a large pot and cover with water, making sure that they are covered by at least two inches, as we will have to add the potato.
Bring them to a boil and let them boil for about 5 minutes before adding the potato. Now boil until all the vegetables are soft and break apart when you stab the chunks with a large knife. Drain and return to the pan. Add the milk, butter and cheese and mash with an actual masher or use a hand-held stick blender. Stir well and taste; now add salt and pepper to taste. Add more milk (I use soy) if you feel the mash is too thick. Just remember they have to stand up to the shanks and gravy sitting on top of them.
I did this one almost exactly the same as the recipe above, except I used a head of cauliflower, cut up and steamed until tender. Don’t boil it or you’ll get runny mash. I use the stick blender on this one, and probably more salt than you would on the above recipe. And I also used peppered chevre instead of the herbed, which worked a treat!
*If they are bigger, don’t worry; just cook them longer.