Daylight Savings Time just fell back this weekend so we got an extra hour. Jessica and I got up early this morning and ran in the Susan G Komen Race for the Cure, so we were feeling extra hungry. The weather has been cold lately and we were craving something warming. It seemed like the perfect day to take things nice, slow, and hearty... a good day to braise.
We went to Whole Foods and perused the butcher counter for meats that might make a nice braise. We settled on a couple of lamb shanks and I worked from there. We also had 3/4 bottle of flat champagne left over in our fridge from my birthday party. It was pretty nice champagne, so I figured I should probably cook something with it and not just throw it out. Rather than try to figure out some wacky clever way to pair braised lamb shanks with champagne, I instead opted to highlight the champagne in a dessert dish.
This is what I came up with:
Endive with Micro Arugula and Radishes
Walnuts. Honey. Balsamic Vinegar. Black Pepper. Olive Oil.
Braised Lamb Shank on Root Vegetables with Wild Mushrooms
Rosemary rubbed lamb shank braised in Gamay wine. Roasted root vegetables: carrot, celery, leek, turnip, red potato, purple potato. Shitake and fried chicken mushrooms sauteed with thyme and parsley in artisan butter. Roasted leeks.
Champagne Poached Pear
Anjou pear. Rosé Champagne syrup with vanilla bean, lemon, orange, ginger, saffron, and cardamom. Carmelized raspberry honey reduction. Fresh raspberries. Mint.
Unfortunately, I don't have anywhere near the time to try to put together full recipes for this, but this is the birds eye overview.
For the lamb, I started with a recipe for braised lamb shanks from the James Peterson "Meat" cookbook as a launching point, making some adjustments along the way. Having just gotten a new Shun Ken Onion boning knife for my birthday, I trimmed the lamb chops thoroughly. I then tied them, rubbed with rosemary, salt, and pepper, and roasted at 425F for 25 minutes. I then slow braised in Gamay wine, chicken broth, and aromatics for 3 hours, reducing the braising liquid at the end.
For the root vegetables, I practiced my knife discipline and cut everything in a uniform brunoise before tossing with olive oil, thyme, salt, and pepper and roasting at 400F until golden.
For the mushrooms, I kept it simple with a gentle sautee in olive oil and butter with thyme and parsley.
For the pear, I made a flavored simple syrup based on the champagne and various other ingredients before simmering the pear in it for 25 minutes. I made a separate "burnt" raspberry honey sauce on the side.
The salad I just threw together, using nice thin mandoline cuts on the radishes and deconstructing the salad dressing on the plate.
This all came out pretty well.
The salad was crisp, flavorful and seasonal, though it could have used a little more acid in the form of lemon juice.
The lamb shank was fantastic. Somehow I managed to achieve something close to what I call a "perfect braise crust". This is hard to explain to those who haven't seen it, but if you've had braised meats at a REALLY good restaurant, you'll know what I'm talking about. I would say that Daniel Boulud's short ribs are the textbook example of this. It's basically like there's a lacquer to the meat... about 1/4 mm of perfect black lacquered crust transitioning quickly to evenly cooked and tender meat in the center. When it comes out like this, you did it right. I haven't got it quite this spot on before.
Because of my excitement about my new boning knife, I spent extra time trimming and frenching the shank. Without a doubt, the time spent trimming makes a big difference in the level of elegance of the finished product.
The root vegetables and mushrooms came out very nicely. The pear for dessert was a little too al dente... I deliberately erred on the side of al dente but just a little too far, as I generally prefer a poached pear that's a little too crisp to one that is mushy. Otherwise the flavors were fantastic.
Overall, quite a pleasing and encouraging effort and one that paired particularly magically to the time and place.