Happy Turkey Day everyone! In honor of this national holiday, I’m posting about…lamb. I know, I know – ill timed. But, come this weekend, when you won’t be able to stomach another ounce of turkey or leftover cranberry sauce, you’re going to looking for a hearty, warming meal like this one. Now, most days are not braise days. Most days are mac and cheese from a box, or spaghetti aglio olio, or chicken curry days. I usually leave the braising of big cuts of meat (lamb shanks, shoulder, or short ribs) to the pros at my favorite Persian or Turkish or Afghan restaurants. But sometimes, you have to pull out the big guns. Visiting relatives. Someone got a raise, or maybe just got a year older. Or, perhaps you’re snowed in. Look at it just getting all cozy in its bed of tomatoes, onions and spices. When the occasion calls for a braise, the long, slow cooking of a piece of meat in order to render all of the fat and break down the muscle fibers to make for a tender, delicious meat, tomatoes and onions are my best friends. Many French or European recipes rely on the acidity of wine to get the job done. My mother and many on the Subcontinent might rely on green papaya as a meat tenderizer (strange, I know, but it works!). So, when deciding how to prepare this awesome lamb shoulder, I noticed most of the recipes in my cookbooks called for about 2 lbs cubed, boneless lamb shoulder (oops). Since this piece came bone-in, I decided to make the most of it! I love bones (it’s the Bengali in me). Since I don’t cook with wine or chicken stock for the most part, I rely on the bones in the meat I prepare to flavor the broth that it cooks in. I reviewed many different recipes before I went ahead with this one. It’s a conglomerate of all of them (cooking technique based loosely on Andrew Zimmern’s stovetop method, spice mix based on Gourmet’s Ras el Hanout recipe). I used my dutch oven for this – it retains heat really well and the inside of the top cover is lined with bumps that allow the moisture to drip down and baste the meat. Any large pot will do, though. You want to cook until the meat is tender and falling off the bone, but not so long that the meat will dry out (not to worry, there is a fairly large window of time between the two). After a cooking time of 1 1/2 hours, I took the meat out and shred it with a fork. During this time, I took the pot off the heat, and blended all the chunks in the cooking liquid with my immersion belnder to make a satiny smooth sauce. You can do this in your blender, in batches, or leave as is for a more “rustic” look. I left the meat immediately around the bone in tact, for presentation purposes, or for the Fred Flinstone in your family. I served this with couscous cooked in a saffron broth, and vegetables lightly sauteed with garlic and rosemary.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 Honest Chops lamb shoulder (this one was 1 1/2 lbs)
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp cayenne (1/4 tsp if you prefer it mild)
- 1/4 tsp cardamom powder
- 1/8 tsp cloves
- 1 tbsp garlic paste
- 1 tbsp ginger paste
- 1 lb tomatoes, quartered (you can use the equivalent amount of crushed/whole tomatoes from a can)
- 3 cups water
- In a large dutch oven or casserole, heat oil over high heat. Season the lamb shoulder with salt and pepper. Add to the pot. Don’t move until the side that’s down is nice and brown (2-4 minutes depending on heat level). Rotate to the next side, carefully. Repeat until all sides are browned (about 10 minutes). While this happens, dice the onion and assemble the spices. Take the shoulder out of the pan and onto a plate. Set aside.
- Add the diced onion to the hot pan, stirring vigorously to get the brown bits off the bottom. When they start to sweat, add tomato paste and ALL of the spices (up to the cloves). Add a splash of water, if necessary to dissolve all the spices and form a nice mush. Once the spices are dissolved and you have a nice onion/spice paste, add garlic, ginger and tomatoes. Stir to combine. Next, add the water, then nestle the meat in. Bring up to a boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and put the lid on. Simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, rotating the meat every 20 minutes or so to ensure even cooking.
- After the 1 1/1 hours is up, remove meat from pot and check for doneness and seasoning (should be fork tender and delicious!). Shred most of the meat with two forks on a cutting board. Remove pot from heat and blend the broth with an immersion blender, or in batches in a conventional blender, or leave as is for a more rustic look. Also check the broth for seasoning. Return to heat and boil over high heat for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Add the meat back and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
- Serve on a bed of couscous or rice, garnished with a sprinkling of fresh parsley.