BRAISED LAMB SHANKS WITH ALMOND-CHOCOLATE PICADA


A Favorite Recipe to Accompany Syrah

What is it about lamb and Syrah? The sweet game flavors of lamb seem to fit perfectly with Syrah’s blood, leather, pepper, blue/blackberry, Provençal herb, and earth characteristics. It creates a visceral reaction in us. We want to eat rack of lamb popsicles at every meal. Or a plate of succulent little chops. Or, a butterflied shoulder, we are not picky.

This recipe comes from Paula Wolfert’s new cookbook, The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. Andy prepared this dish for the first time last New Year’s Eve for 40 people; a delightful way to start and end an evening. The picada contributes flavors that elevate the dish to a new realm of complexity and pleasure. It is simply wonderful.

Ingredients

1 bottle of full-bodied red wine
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 onion, thickly sliced
1 large leek, halved lengthwise and thickly sliced
1 head of garlic, halved
1 lemon, quartered
1/2 cup drained, chopped canned plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cracked black peppercorn
2 bay leaves
5 pounds lamb shanks (1 per person)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine
Chopped parsley for garnish
Halved cherry tomatoes for garnish
For the Picada:
24 blanched almonds
4 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
1 slice stale bread, toasted, crust removed
1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon brandy
2 teaspoons of cooking juice

To Prepare

1. In a large saucepan, boil the wine until reduced to 2 cups. Add the carrots, onion, leek, halved garlic head, lemon, plum tomatoes, thyme, oregano, peppercorns, and bay leaves and simmer for 5 minutes. Let the marinade cool completely.

2. Place shanks in plastic bag(s) with the marinade and let sit overnight or as long as time allows.

3. Remove the meat from the marinade and pat dry. Discard the lemon quarters and strain the marinade, reserving the vegetables and the liquid separately.

4. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper and brown them on each side in a heavy skillet with olive oil over medium to high heat. Transfer the browned shanks to a cast-iron casserole dish with a lid. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

5. Add the reserved vegetables to the skillet with a tablespoon of oil and cook over medium heat until brown and tender. Squeeze excess oil from the vegetables and add to the casserole dish.

6. Pour off the oil in the skillet. Add 2 tablespoons of white wine to the skillet to remove the browned pieces of lamb and vegetable. Add 2 cups of water and boil until reduced to a syrup. Pour into the casserole dish. Heat the reserved red wine and add to the casserole. Cover the meat and vegetables with a parchment paper placed directly on top.

7. Place the lid on the casserole and cook for 4 1/2 to 5 hours until the meat falls from the bone. Discard the parchment paper and transfer the lamb to an oiled baking dish that will hold all the shanks in one layer. Season the lamb with salt and pepper and cover with foil.

8. Strain the remaining juices from the casserole dish with a fine sieve, pressing hard to extract all liquid. Skim off the fat from the juices and boil over high heat, skimming frequently, until reduced to 2 cups.

9. In the meantime, toast the almonds. In a mortar or food processor, grind the almonds and garlic to a coarse paste. Add the parsley, toast, cocoa, brandy and 2 tablespoons of cooking juices and pound or process until smooth.

10. Scrape the picada into the sauce and cook over medium high heat until the sauce thickens. Correct the seasoning and pour over the lamb and bake for 30 minutes. Be careful it does not become too dry. Garnish with parsley and halved tomatoes for color.

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