Winter will soon be over. With the end of winter and the start of spring, the weather wavers between cold and warm. Lamb is one of the harbingers of the season and a piece of it braised is a warming start to spring. The lamb I used in this recipe is from William’s Ranches in Sonoma County and can be sourced through Sonoma County Meat Company in Santa Rosa. The lamb is all natural and pastured and allowed to develop more to produce a quality, ‘lamby’ flavor.
The great thing about this dish, as well as many other braised meats is its versatility. It can be served simply over creamy polenta and roasted vegetables, stuffed into pasta, or how we prepare it in the restaurant, by shredding the meat and mixing it with the reduced braising liquid, Dijon mustard, shallot and roasted onion, spreading it into a pan and pressing it with weight over night, then cutting it into batons and pan frying it. This results in a caramelized and crunchy crust with a tender and juicy center. The lamb batons are served with crispy polenta, braised wild radish greens and a pan sauce made with the braising liquid and fresh herbs.
1 boneless lamb shoulder (4-6 pounds), cut into roughly 3”x 3” cubes
4 quarts chicken or lamb stock
1 head garlic, skin on, cut in half
1 yellow onion, cut into rough, medium dice
1 carrot, cut into rounds
4 stalks celery, cleaned, cut into 1” pieces
8 washed crimini or button mushrooms
4 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
1 tablespoon toasted black pepper
1 teaspoon, toasted coriander
3 green cardamom pods, toasted
3-4 toasted, smoked piquin chiles (substitute 1 teaspoon chile flake)
2 cups quality red wine
1 cup tomato puree
1 whole preserved lemon (see preserved lemon recipe)
Salt & Oil as needed
1 piece 4”x 4” cheesecloth
1 8” length of butcher’s twine
Pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees Farenheit. In a heavy bottom, oven proof pot or rondeau, heat 2-3 tablespoons of quality vegetable oil (canola, grapeseed, etc.) until it starts to smoke. In the meantime, season the lamb generously with salt. Sear the meat in batches, if needed, making sure not to crowd the pieces or they will not form a proper sear. When all the meat has a golden brown crust on all sides, remove from the pan and add the garlic, cut side down as well as the onion, carrot, celery and mushrooms. Turn the heat to medium and slowly caramelize the vegetables, making sure not to burn the garlic, you may need to add more oil to ensure this. When the vegetables are caramelized and fragrant add the tomato puree and cook for an additional 10 minutes over medium low heat. Then add the wine and preserved lemon and reduce until the pot is almost dry. Wrap the toasted spices, chiles, bay leaves and thyme in the piece of cheesecloth and tie with the butcher’s twine and add to the pot. Return the lamb to the pot and cover with the stock (having the stock already at a simmer will speed up the cooking time). Cover pot and place in the oven. Cook for 2 hours and check. If the meat is tender and falling apart it is finished, if the lamb is too firm to your liking put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes. The meat should be tender and yielding, but not mushy. When the lamb is finished, remove from the liquid and place in an appropriately sized container and strain the liquid over to remove the vegetables and the spice sachet. Allow the lamb to cool in the liquid or season with salt and serve immediately over creamy polenta and roasted vegetables.