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Braised Lamb Shanks, a la Balrog

Black pepper Braised Lamb Shanks Cook Dutch oven Farm Harissa lamb North Africa Olive oil Recipe sheep Tablespoon Teaspoon

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Everyone asks me, “Doesn’t it bother you to name them and then eat them?”

No, naming our meals doesn’t bother me.  The animals on our farm have a really nice life.  It’s no joke.  I’ve had people tell me that my chick brooders are cleaner than the hospital maternity ward.  Cuddles, communication, and cookies are freely given.  We’re not short on amenities if you have a stay on this farm.

As a rule, livestock doesn’t go into the freezer here if they’re nice.  That is to say that if you’re a rooster, you can stay as long as you’d like as long as you know how to get along with everyone else.  Meanness is not tolerated.  A mean rooster is given plenty of opportunities but in the end, we’ve all got to get along around here and not stress each other out.  So that goes for sheep, too.

We don’t raise our Shetland for meat specifically, we raise them for their fleece.  But we’ve had a few go into the freezer over the past 8 years and they’ve been delicious.  The meanness didn’t come out in the meat.  Fortunately.

Most of the sheep here are extremely loving but every now and then you have one that you just don’t know what to do with.  Balrog had mood-swings – he was a ram and I’ll grant him his behaviors.  And sadly, he really was sweet one-on-one.  But, man, did he know how to destroy this farm.  We have Balrog-projects to fix all over the place.

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So we’ll cut to the chase and share the latest delicious recipe in which he was featured.  If only I’d had the “Harissa” ingredients, I could’ve authentically turned this one out.  In spite of the lack of caraway seeds and fresh mint, this Middle Eastern flavored dish was quite fulfilling.  I used a recipe from my “Joy of Cooking” cookbook:

4 meaty lamb shanks (about 3-4 pounds total) -mine were broken in half

Season with:

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon sweet or hot paprika

Heat in a large Dutch oven over high heat:

2 tablespoons olive oil

Add the shanks and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes.  Remove the shanks and keep warm.  Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan.  Add:

2 onions, halved and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

Reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook, stirring often, until the onions are quite soft.  Sprinkle with:

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon sweet or hot paprika

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch of ground cinnamon

Pinch of ground allspirce

Stir well to coat the onions.  Add:

2 cups chicken or lamb stock or water

1 cup dry white wine

1/3 cup tomato puree

Increase the heat and bring to a boil.  Return the lamb shanks to the pan, cover, and bake until the meat is almost falling off the bone, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  Add:

2 cups 1-inch pieces carrots

2 cups diced, peeled winter squash, such as butternut or Hubbard(I used butternut)

Cover and bake until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes more(it took about 25 minutes for mine to become soft.)  Remove the meat and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.  Skim off the fat from the surface of the sauce.  Add:

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, or 2 tablespoons dried

2 teaspoons Harissa, or to taste(optional)

Taste and adjust the seasonings and pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.  We served ours with couscous.

Harissa, as described by my cookbook:

In North Africa, this fiery pepper paste is stirred into black olives, seafood stews, soups, herb salads, and vegetable dishes, or used as an ingredient in sauces for brochettes, tagines, and couscous.

Combine in a small dry skillet over medium heat and toast, shaking the pan often to prevent burning, until very aromatic, 2-3 minutes.

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

Remove from the heat, let cool to room temperature, and grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder, coffee grinder or blender, or with a mortar and pestle.  Add and grind again until smooth:

2 cloves garlic, quartered

Salt to taste

Add and grind until all the ingredients are well combined:

3 tablespoons sweet paprika

1 tablespoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon olive oil

The harissa will be very thick and dry.  Transfer the paste to a small jar and cover with Olive oil.  Store, covered, in the refrigerator; it will keep for 6 months.

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