Taste Buds

Cooking lamb more strategy than recipe

Posted Feb. 22, 2011, at 7:36 p.m.

Our community is blessed with a fairly recently established farm that raises lamb and lately added pigs and beef critters. We can order meat ahead or even pick up frozen lamb and pork.

I suspect that there is a lot of that going on here in Maine, and local, grass-fed meat is not that hard to come by. We acquired half a lamb and the first thing we noticed was how mildly flavored it was compared to the imported lamb one finds hailing from Australia or New Zealand.

It seems to me that when I was growing up the only lamb I ever ate was ground lamb. An early lamb-eating memory, maybe when I was 5, is of my granddad bleating “baaaaa” when I stuck my fork into a lamb patty. My mom certainly never cooked lamb shanks. I barely recall seeing lamb shanks on restaurant menus or in magazine articles until the last few years. Of course, since we bought half a lamb I ended up with two shanks. My friend Diane Ferris is a master of shank cookery, and I asked her to show me what to do.

The recipe here is more of a strategy than recipe, organized so you can expand it according to how many shanks you have. I can make myself pretty happy eating just one, and one shank per person probably will work unless you have very hungry types in your household.

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Diane says it is hard to overcook them, that if the meat falls off the bones it is fine. You can cook them ahead and rewarm the dish later and the flavors will have developed more fully.

Diane also pointed out that you can adjust the recipe seasonally to take advantage of whatever vegetables are available. In summer, use zucchini, summer squash and tomatoes instead of wintertime’s roots. Since I still have leeks in the cellar from last year’s garden, I substituted a leek for one of the onions. Feel free to add more onion if you wish.

Plan on a minimum of 1½-hour cooking time. Even if you cook up to four or five servings, you still will need only two bay leaves. The curry powder adds a bit of flavor but does not create a strong curry presence. The potato helps with thickening, so take it easy with the flour as you multiply the recipe.

Lamb Shanks

Yields as many servings as shanks

One lamb shank per person

  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium onion or leek per person, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic per person, chopped
  • ½ green or sweet red pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1 to 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon flour per serving
  • 1 medium carrot per person, cut into 2-inch sections
  • Hot water
  • 1 medium potato per person, cut into large chunks
  • Salt and pepper

Select a heavy-bottomed pot large enough to hold all the shanks plus vegetables. Just coat the bottom with oil and put over medium high heat. Brown shanks turning once or twice, then add chopped onions. Cook until onions begin to soften, then add garlic, peppers, bay leaves, curry powder and flour. Stir and cook three to five minutes. Add carrots and enough hot water to cover bottom of pot up to 1 or 2 inches deep. Cover and reduce heat to steady simmer for at least an hour.

Check to make sure liquid doesn’t cook away, and add more hot water if needed. Stir vegetables and turn shanks over from time to time to prevent sticking. When meat feels tender when poked with a knife, add potato chunks and cook until they are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve with the carrots and potatoes on the side, and thickened sauce poured over the shanks and vegetables.

Send queries or answers to Sandy Oliver, 1061 Main Road, Islesboro 04848. E-mail: sandyoliver47@gmail.com. For recipes, tell us where they came from. List ingredients, specify number of servings and do not abbreviate measurements. Include name, address and daytime phone number.

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