Saturday, December 31, 2011

Lamb Shank Stew With Tomato and Butter Beans

It is an all too rare occurrence that my co-blogger and I cook and eat a meal together. But a few days before New Year’s, we found ourselves free of plans. Serendipitously, I had a pot full of lamb shank stew that I had planned to serve over rice, and Alyce was…making rice. It was totally like I was a crocodile and she was that bird that picks food out of its teeth, or something. So, Alyce jumped in her car to come pick me up, I threw my pot into a canvas shopping bag (have lamb, will travel!), and we proceeded to have the best impromptu dinner party ever.

How, gentle reader, did I come to have said pot of stew in my possession? Well, the previous night, I had made tomato soup (recipe to come, sooner or later) and grilled cheese sandwiches (with fancy artisanal bread from Brooklyn Victory Garden and Kraft singles from Met Foods) for myself and The Rob, and prepped this lamb stew for later in the week. See, on weeknights, I like to throw together something quick for that night’s dinner (say, pasta) while simultaneously pre-cooking something that can be reheated another night. Cheap cuts of meat like lamb shank and beef short ribs take a long time to slow-cook but require zero maintenance while doing so, and serving them on the next night or two is actually preferable because (a) the flavors develop that much longer and (b) during overnight refrigeration, a layer of fat congeals at the top of the liquid and can be easily skimmed off before reheating.

So, here’s how to put this dish together. It takes time management (you want it to cook 4 hours on night 1) but very little hands-on time.

Night 1:

  • Preheat the oven to 275°-300°. (Don’t be a baby; fresh meat cooked at this temperature isn’t going to kill you. That said, Brooklyn Girls Cooking disavows all liability if it does.)

  • Rub about 3-4 lb. lamb shank with salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, and olive oil and let sit for about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

  • Brown the meat on all sides (in batches) over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven; using tongs to turn it will make your life much easier.

  • Remove the meat and add an onion sliced into circles; stir.

  • Add a 28-oz. can of whole plum tomatoes and their liquid, an 8-oz. can of tomato sauce, and 4 cups beef or chicken stock. (I threw about 1/2 cup of beer in there too; you could use either red or white wine.) Add the zest of 1 lemon; you can grate it directly into the pot.

  • Turn the heat up to high and bring the mix just to a boil. (You don’t want to be wearing your white silk outfit for this, ’cuz that tomato sauce will spatter like a mofo. Plus, it’s after Labor Day.)

  • When the tomatoes rise to the surface, stab them through with a kitchen knife. This helps get your aggression out break them up into pieces and incorporate into the sauce.

  • Lower the heat to medium so you just have a nice modestly bubbling simmer going. Add thyme (ideally fresh, but dried will do in a pinch—actually, use more than a pinch, since dried herbs have less flavor. Hwaaaaaa, see what I did there?!?!).

  • Return the meat to the pot, cover it with an oven-safe lid, and put it in—wait for it—the oven. Cook for about 4 hours.

  • Remove the pot from the oven and allow it to cool uncovered for 15 minutes or so before putting it in the fridge overnight.

    Night 2

  • Remove the lid and scrape off the layer of congealed fat, which will likely be stained bright orange from the tomato sauce. (It’s fine if a few beads remain here and there. Don’t freak out about it.)

  • Use tongs to extract the lamb shanks from the pot, then tear the meat off the bone with your fingers, shredding as needed to flake off maybe 2-inch chunks. Return the meat to the pot (you could save the bones for stock if you like).

  • Place the pot on a burner turned to medium high, uncovered (you can keep the cover on until the liquid is heated enough to bubble). Add a 15.5-oz. can of butter beans, drained; a sliced yellow or red pepper; and a few generous handfuls of trimmed and halved-lengthwise green beans. Cook until the green beans are softened and the liquid has reduced, maybe 20 or 30 minutes. At Alyce’s suggestion, I whisked 1 TBSP or so of cornstarch into a small bowl of the liquid and then added it back into the pan, to help thicken/reduce the sauce.

    Along with the rice, Alyce supplied a lovely romaine salad with celery and carrots—a nice contrast/complement of raw and crunchy to the hearty, rich slow-cooked stew. And because the proportion of lamb I had used was way low (far less than the 3-4 lb. specified above), she also provided a package of Andouille sausage that we sliced lengthwise into 4 pieces and browned on the stove before adding to the pan. This was an excellent addition that I would recommend even if you use enough lamb—chorizo or some sort of fancy chicken sausage would also hit the spot.

    We paired this warming winter meal with a likewise glow-inducing Merlot and had a much-needed girl-time catch-up, after not having seen each other over the holiday season. This was a highly serendipitous stewincidence indeed!

  • 1 comment:

    1. it was the best impromptu dinner party ever! love you lady!