Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Braised Lamb with White Wine, Fennel and Olives

From time to time, I find myself utterly at a loss at deciding what to cook. For a good 5 minutes I was standing at the butchers counter waiting for inspiration to strike. There were a lot of prime cuts on show, probably because it's the weekend, and I was looking for something at the other end of the spectrum, such as pork belly or beef shin. Eventually I settled on a solitary lamb shank- not as cheap as they were, since every restaurant has one on its menu now- but not bank-breaking either. The most common way lamb shank turns up in said restaurants is slow cooked with a rich red wine reduction. Although perfect for the depths of winter, too heavy for the current humidity. Something fresher is required.

This time, I turned to Greek flavours for my inspiration: oregano, lemon and bay, as well as thyme and some chilli for heat. Still going with the slow cooking though, this cut demands it.

I tasted during the cooking, and found I needed to add something to sweeten it, hence the sugar in the ingredients list. I should have realised, really, that the bitterness of the fennel and olives would need something to counteract it. Thankfully this sort of cooking can be very forgiving, and I managed to rescue the balance.

Honesty-time: I haven't eaten it yet. I've tried it, both meat and juices, but it had gotten too late by the time the lamb had cooked to the requisite melting softness for me to be hungry. I had enough to know I like it. But I will be having it tomorrow, slowly reheated. I'm leaning towards cooking some soup pasta, orzo or similar, in the winey juices and shredding the lamb to make a comforting, upmarket broth, but we'll see.

1 lamb shank
Olive oil
1 small onion, sliced
1 small bulb fennel, sliced
1 small carrot, halved lengthways
Thymes leaves, chopped
Oregano leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves
pinch chilli flakes
strip of unwaxed lemon zest
200ml white wine
small handful black olives
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper

In a lidded casserole or similar, heat the olive oil to a high heat on the hob. Season the lamb shank with salt and pepper, and brown the meat all over in the oil. Turn the heat to low, remove the lamb, and turn the onion, fennel, carrot, herbs, lemon zest and chilli flakes in the fat for a few minutes. Return the lamb to the pan, add the olives, and pour over the wine. Add the sugar, bring liquid to a simmer, turn the heat down to low, put a lid on, and leave to cook for at least two hours, until the meat is truly tender, i.e, you can shred it with a fork. Adjust seasoning, eat.
Serves 1

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