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Braised Lamb Shanks with White Bean Puree

For the second year, we decided as a family to have a non-traditional meal at Thanksgiving.  Last year we threw down some incredible food that would be hard to top.  This year, the food had a depth of flavor that set us all reeling.  Truly a special meal.  The overall dinner was six courses and ran for about six hours from start to finish.  Plenty of food, wine and laughter throughout the day which left us all a little sleepy and content. Nobody was overstuffed, just to the right level.  Who knows what next year will bring!

The recipe for the braised lamb shanks and white bean puree is based on a recipe from John Fischer & Lou Jone’s book Bistros and Brasseries. The recipe looked so good that I followed it fairly closely, with a few changes made along the way to suit my taste preferences.  Overall, this was some of the best lamb that I have ever eaten.  Chock full of flavor, perfectly tender and delicious- this should be a recipe that you give a try sooner rather than later.

The recipe called for six lamb foreshanks to serve six people.  Let me tell you, that’s a lot of food per person AND lamb foreshanks aren’t as easy to come across as you might think.  I lucked out at the West Side Market, hitting Foster’s meats right when they had two lambs freshly broken down.  I asked if I could order the two additional that I needed from them and the butcher said that it might be a week or more before he would have any available.  We discussed my options and decided that two pounds of lamb shoulder would work extremely well for the braise.  The reason I chose shoulder was due to the higher fat content.  The lamb foreshanks don’t naturally have a high meat to fat ratio, so they might have dried out.  The shoulder imparts its fat into the braising liquid and it was absolutely delicious.  Next time, I might just get lamb shoulder for this recipe- it was outstanding on its own.

Lamb foreshanks. Ready to be seasoned and browned. Photo by Scott Groth

For this recipe, it is best to use homemade stocks. The depth of flavor will really shine through. If using boxed stocks, make sure that you use low sodium or no sodium stocks. It’s always better to add your own salt in- that way you know how much is going into the recipe.

Makes enough for six really hungry people or eight people with normal portion sizes.

Ingredients for the Braised Lamb Shanks:

4-6 lamb foreshanks.  If you get 4, buy 2 pounds of lamb shoulder.
Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper
3 ribs celery, diced
2 washed carrots, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 large shallot, diced
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 bay leaves
5 full fresh thyme sprigs
3 tablespoons loose fresh rosemary
12-15 peppercorns
5 anchovy fillets
1 head garlic, cut in half horizontally
3 cups red wine
1.5 cups white wine (dry)
1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup veal demi-glace or 2 cups veal stock
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup water

Ingredients for the While Bean Puree:

2 cups dried cannellini beans
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1 large white onion, diced fine
1 carrot, diced fine
2 celery ribs, diced fine
3 garlic cloves, smashed
4 full fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
6 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil

Okay, so there’s some prep work that needs to be done the night before cooking. Take the beans and pour them in a bowl. Add 2 cups chicken stock and 2 cups of water. Cover and place in the fridge to rehydrate the beans.

The lamb shanks should take about an hour to prep and four hours to cook, so work back from the time you need them finished to know when to start cooking. I started at 9A for a 2P service. But, I took the shanks and shoulder out at 8A and coated them liberally with salt, pepper and olive oil. I wanted the seasoning to start to penetrate the meat and to bring the meat to room temp. You also have to look at the amount of meat being cooked. The shanks take up a lot of room, so if you need more than one pot be sure that you are prepared. I needed two pots so I borrowed one and split the recipe 2/3 and 1/3 between the large and small pot (approximations came into play on some items).

Turn the oven on when you are ready to start cooking to 325 degrees. Take out a large cast iron dutch oven or other similar cooking vessel. Put it over high heat on the stove and add about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil. Brown the shanks on all sides, but do not crowd the pot- you won’t get browning but instead you will get gray, boiled looking meat. I browned 2 at a time and placed them on a platter as they were finished in the pan. Once they are all brown, toss in the shallot, onion, carrot and celery into the pot. Turn the heat to medium-high and stir for about 10 minutes until they are soft.

Season the lamb shanks and brown in your dutch oven. Photo by Scott Groth

Add in the tomato paste and stir for about 3 minutes to incorporate. Add in the rosemary, thyme, garlic, anchovies, bay leaves and peppercorns. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Turn the heat down if you are getting some fond (buildup) on the bottom of the pot. You don’t want the tomato paste to burn.

Add in the wine (both red and white) and the vinegar. Scrape the bottom of the pot and crank the heat to high while stirring. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Add in the stock (veal and chicken), the cup of water and the sugar. Stir until simmering. Add the meat back into the pot and cover. Toss into the oven for 1 hour covered. After the hour, remove the lid and rotate the meat every 1/2 hour. You want the meat to constantly be hydrated.

The meat should be falling off the bone when it is cooked. Photo by Scott Groth

With about two and a half hours left on the meat, start to work on the white bean puree. Drain the beans. Add them to a large saucepan or stock pot. Add in the smashed garlic, carrot, celery, onion, fresh thyme sprigs, bay leaf and six cups of the stock. Bring the pan to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add in salt and pepper. Cook for about 2 hours or until the beans are soft and have absorbed the liquid.

These beans are ready for blending. All the stock has been absorbed. Photo by Scott Groth

Once the beans have absorbed the liquid, take them off the heat. Pick out the thyme stalks and bay leaf. Take 1/2 the batch and dump into a blender. If you use the whole batch, it will be too thick to blend properly. Pour in 1/2 of the cream and 1/2 of the garlic. Blend on high. Drizzle in the oil to incorporate. Pour out into the sauce pan. Repeat process with the remaining beans. Right before service, fold in the parsley.

Blend the beans to a creamy consistency. Photo by Scott Groth

The beans should be done right about the time it’s time to take the lamb out of the oven. Remove the lamb from the dutch oven and place on a platter. Cover lightly with foil to keep warm. Take out a mixing bowl and place a fine mesh sieve inside it. Ladle out the liquid and solids from the bottom of the pan into the sieve. With a rubber spatula, lightly move the solids around to extract their liquid as well. If you have a fat separator, pour the liquid from the bowl into the separator. If you don’t, skim the orange looking oil from the top of the strained pan juices in the bowl. Take the remaining pan juice and put into a sauce pan or skillet. Place over medium-high heat and reduce for about 10 minutes.

Plate some of the white bean puree and top with a shank or piece of shoulder. Pour the reduced pan juice over the entire shootin match. Dig in. Smile. Enjoy. Repeat.

Braised lamb on white bean puree, covered with jus. Outstanding. Photo by Scott Groth

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