Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Weeknight Entertaining: Port-Braised Lamb Shanks with Coriander, Fennel, and Star Anise

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Let's say you want to have a special evening. There's a fancy bottle of wine you've been saving, and you've invited a few friends over for a home-cooked meal. You have something to celebrate.

But you don't know exactly what time they're arriving—they could be stuck at work, or their train could take forever to come. If you plan a dish with too many last-minute preparations, you'll be bustling around while your friends relax and catch up. And you clearly don't have time for lots of shopping and complicated prep between the time you leave work and the time they come over. It's a challenge, the weeknight dinner party.

But take a deep breath. There is no reason you can't entertain on a weeknight, even have a truly decadent, enjoyable meal, without any stress. That's what braising is for. Everything is prepared in advance. You can gently reheat these port-braised lamb shanks for 45 minutes or an hour or longer while your guests arrive, while you drink toasts and eat lovely cheese, and the meal will be none the worse for wear. In fact, it will just get better.

It always amazes me how recipes for braised dishes fail to emphasize the value in cooking ahead. Cook for three (or more) hours the evening before your party, and let the pot cool off outside before you stash it in the fridge overnight. The flavors will mingle, and, most importantly, the fat will separate from the cooking liquid. On game day, you skim the now-solidified fat from the surface before reheating. And this dish has plenty. It's quite satisfying to remove it, knowing you're saving your guests from a greasy meal.

So the lamb reheated happily on the stove, and we sipped the wine and ate lovely cheese from Fromaggio in Essex Market. And Matt asked Peter to be his best man in our wedding, and they were both blushing and adorable, and the lamb fell off the bone as I tried to serve it, and it was as tender as can be.

Port-Braised Braised Lamb Shanks with Coriander, Fennel, and Star Anise
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2006
Serves 4

2 1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large lamb shanks (about 5 pounds)
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large white onion, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
10 garlic cloves, peeled
3 celery stalks, cut crosswise into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled, cut crosswise into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 small leek
3 cups ruby Port
2 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 1/2 cups beef broth
6 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

The day before the party, prepare and braise the lamb shanks. Measure coriander, fennel, and pepper in a heavy skillet. Toast on medium-high heat until aromatic and slightly darker, about 2 minutes. Transfer to spice grinder or mortar and pestle; grind finely. Rub each shank with spice blend, reserving a tablespoon or so. Sprinkle each shank with salt.

In large pot, heat port to a simmer. Simmer until reduced to about 1 cup, about 20 minutes. Add broth, boil until liquid is reduced to about 4 cups, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, eat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add shanks to pot. Cook until brown on all sides, about 20 minutes. Remove to bowl. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to same pot. Add onion and next 4 ingredients; sauté over medium heat until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add remaining spice blend and stir 1 minute. Add hot liquid when reduced, scraping the pan and using the liquid to deglaze.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Return shanks to pot. Add cloves, star anise, bay leaves, and crushed red pepper. Cover pot and place in oven. Braise lamb until tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
When cooked, uncover and cool slightly. Remove shanks from sauce, holding on a plate or bowl, and strain sauce. Return shanks and sauce to pot. Cover and keep refrigerated up to two days.

The day of the party, skim fat from top of the dish. Rewarm, covered, in a 350°F for 45 minutes to one and a half hours (until warm) before serving.

Place 1 lamb shank on each of 4 plates (can be served on top of polenta). Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce and over lamb and serve.


Phoo-D said...

This looks wonderful Maggie! I'm glad you enjoyed it for such a memorable occasion. We thought this recipe was special too. Mr. B wants to know what wine you enjoyed with the meal.
Phoo-D & Mr. B

Maggie said...

We drank a good (though not expensive) Carignan with the lamb, and started the night off with a bottle of vintage champagne our friends gave to Matt in the fall and we'd been meaning to share together since then.

Peter M said...

That's a gorgeous, tasty dish. If the meat weren't so flake-off-the-bone, I'd pick it up & eat it like a drum stick.

Anonymous said...

I agree totally about braising...and not just for weeknights. Unless we're grilling, or quick-broiling, we always try to prepare in advance. My favorite (though I will add this to my list, and it sure looks like a winner): coq au vin. I have a great recipe on my site if you'd like to check it out.

Christo Gonzales said...

I have wished for this dish for a few years now....

brandin + kari said...

We are one the same food wavelength. First indian and then braised lamb. We must meet someday:)

Lisa said...

oh, I love this post. Congratulations on your engagement!

EB of SpiceDish said...

I always try to cook ahead when I have dinner parties so I'm not stuck in the kitchen the whole time. This sounds really great. I'll have to give it a shot next time I entertain.

Lo said...

Gotta admit to loving meals like this -- that only get better with time.

This lamb looks positively succulent. Am drooling; I think it's almost time for dinner.

Unknown said...

I love star anise, must try this one out for the hubby

Ulla said...

that looks great. i have two shanks in the freezer!

Cookie said...

That looks SO good! May I ask what it is that you served your lamb on? It looks like Polenta?

Maggie said...

Yep, just a quick polenta. I stir one container of fage nonfat greek yogurt into it to up the creaminess a little.

pigpigscorner said...

Such wonderful flavours! Lovely presentation.

Adi said...
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