Food + Wine

Fennel and Clove Spiced, Cabernet Braised Lamb Shanks over Feta Polenta

Why hello, Monday.  I’ve been anticipating your return.  Although… sigh… I do wish I could have had that nap that was promised me today… instead of having to stay on the phone with Minute Clinic for 2 1/2 hours before speaking to several individuals who didn’t share my concern for having an incorrect medical record (they think I’m 87 with GERD and thyroid disease) and then hanging up with no resolve, and the pest control man ring the doorbell unannounced to declare it convenient for his schedule to pop in and spray my home.  But, I’m about to enjoy a hot bath and climb into my bed that I feel like I left only moments ago.

And before I do, let’s talk lamb, shall we?

Lamb is one of those proteins that splits the culinary vote quite often.  People tend to be very anti-lamb.  And I get it… it’s a very rich and loud meat.  Lamb is not shy.  Lamb is not a wallflower.  Lamb does not blend in.  Lamb walks in the room and says,

BAM, bitches.  I’m HERE.

I like it, but I’m definitely sensitive to having too much of it.  For instance, when I made the keema not too long ago, I cut the lamb with ground beef for that very reason… I wanted the flavor of the lamb to come through, but I also wanted you to be able to taste everything else in the dish.

These lamb shanks are unapologetically lamb.  They are LAMB BAM, THANK YOU MA’AM. But it works, even for someone like me who recognizes the meat’s strength.  It works because there is a wonderful balance of spice and acidity and sweetness…. all the things that lamb really needs to shine.  Without some sort of brightness, lamb registers as too heavy on the palate.

For this dish, I season the shanks with a blend of coriander, fennel, mustard seeds, rosemary and clove.  And then braise them with mirepoix and garlic in a mixture of dry red wine, balsamic vinegar and a bit of brown sugar.  So the end result is this falling off the bone, velvety, rich, well balanced mouthful of heaven.

And I’m serving it all over soft polenta with sheep’s milk feta stirred in, which I should forewarn you- is foreplay on a spoon.

Then, when you top it with freshly chopped parsley, lemon zest and pomegranate seeds?

Damn.

Just damn.

Enjoy the remainder of your Monday, you beautiful people.  I hope you’re all well and happy and healthy.

FENNEL and CLOVE SPICED, CABERNET BRAISED

LAMB SHANKS

over FETA POLENTA

 

serves about 6 (3 shanks)

Season 3 lamb foreshanks (totalling 4.5-5 lb.) with the following…

  • a generous amount of kosher salt all over each and every piece and crevice

and with the following spice/herb mixture you’ve muddled in a mortar and pestle (or spice grinder if you wanna be all high-tech about it)…

  • 1 TB fennel seeds
  • 1/2 TB coriander seeds
  • 1/2 TB mustard seeds
  • 1/2 TB dried rosemary leaves
  • 1/2 tsp whole cloves

Allow the shanks to sit in the salt and seasoning for up to 24 hours if you have the time, but seasoning a few minutes before cooking is completely fine if need be.

In a food processor (or finely chop with a knife and cutting board, if you wanna be all low-tech about it), add the following…

  • 2 stalks celery
  • 4 large carrots, peeled
  • 1 medium-large yellow onion
  • 4-5 cloves garlic

Pulse until you get a chunky paste.  Set aside.

Preheat a large dutch oven or high sided skillet on medium high heat and the oven to 375 degrees.

Add a little light oil to the pan and sear your seasoned shanks on all sides until golden brown and crispy. Remove.

Add more oil if need be and add in your pulsed veggie mix.

Season veggies with kosher salt.  Begin to sweat out the veggies, stirring often.  Cook for about 3 minutes.

Deglaze the pan with…

  • 1/2 bottle of Cabernet (any dry red wine will work just fine).

Stir to scrape up any bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan to incorporate them and their concentrated flavor into the sauce.

Allow the wine to bubble for about a minute or so.

Add…

  • 3 cups beef stock (I’ve used chicken stock before, and even a mixture of veggie, chicken and beef when I had some to use up… so just use what you have)
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 TB light brown sugar
  • 2 bay leaves

Nestle your seared shanks into the sauce and bring the liquid up to a simmer.

Cover the pan, place in the preheated 375 degree oven and cook for 3 hours.

Remove the lid and continue to cook for another hour, reducing the liquid as you go.

By this point them meat should be falling off the bones, but the liquid should still be plentiful.

Unless your liquid has reduced to a thick sauce, place the pan on the burner at high heat, uncovered, and simmer until it does.

Taste to check seasoning, adjusting if necessary.  If it’s too salty, add water and a splash more of balsamic and reduce again.

Serve over soft Feta Polenta (recipe follows) and garnish with chopped parsley, lemon zest and pomegranate arils.

. feta polenta .

I make my grits and polenta in my slow cooker.  I do not have the kind of time or life that allows me to sit and stir something for large amounts of time.  And this is a fail proof method for both grits and polenta.

In your slow cooker (no need to grease), combine the following…

  • 1 cup true polenta (not quick cooking)
  • 2 cups half & half
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 Parmigiano cheese rind (I keep these in my freezer after I use up the wedge)
  • a few pinches of kosher salt

Whisk to remove any preliminary lumps.

Turn heat on low and cook for 2-3 hours before checking, then continuing to cook for longer if need be, or on high for 1 hour…

Add in…

  • about 4-5 ounces really good crumbled sheep’s milk feta cheese

Stir to mix in and allow the feta to melt into the polenta.  Taste to check seasoning.  Salt more if necessary, but know that it is about to be the bed to something heavily seasoned so tread lightly.

-As for the feta here, I strongly recommend you use authentic sheep’s milk feta cheese instead of domestic.  The flavor difference is outstanding… and my preferred brand comes from Trader Joe’s and is actually Israeli Feta called Pastures of Eden, sold in large bricks packed in water.

Thanks for reading, y’all.  XO

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