Last year for the Easter dinner that I put together, I made a roasted leg of lamb with garlic, rosemary and lemon. I don't recall being pleased with the results but I'm uncertain as to why. Apparently I've blocked this culinary mishap from my memory. From what I remember, I think it was bland, dry and sort of greasy.
This year when we were putting the menu together, Annie and I briefly toyed with the idea of have a ham or doing roasting a pork loin or something, but the more we though about it, we kept circling back around to lamb. I mean, lamb on Easter. There's really no other option that makes sense.
Rather than risk the possibility of over-cooking the meat again, I decided that braising was the foolproof way to go. Dry, it most certainly would NOT be. Plus it gave me the excuse to go out and by a dutch oven, which I had been wanting to add to my cookware collection for a long time now. The Saturday before, I headed over to Williams Sonoma at the Beverly Center and purchased a beautiful new Le Crueset 9 1/2 quart oval dutch oven in "Lemongrass." I lugged the behemoth home and proceeded to break her in.
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), cleaned and chopped
6 large whole garlic cloves
6 large lamb shanks (12 to 14 ounces each - although the ones I used were a little bit over a pound each), fat trimmed off
All purpose flour
2 2/3 cups dry red wine (this leaves just enough wine left in the bottle for the cook to have a glass while the lamb braises)
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes with added puree
1/4 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 1/2 tablespoons dried herbes de Provence
1 1/4 pounds slender carrots, peeled, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-long pieces
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
Sprinkle lamb shanks with salt and pepper; dust with flour to coat. Heat the oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add lamb and cook until brown, turning occasionally, about 12 minutes. Transfer the browned lamb to a plate and set aside.
Add leeks and garlic to the pot and sauté until leeks soften, about 5 minutes.
Return the lamb shanks to the pot and add the wine, tomatoes with puree, mushrooms, and herbes de Provence. Stir to coat lamb with vegetable mixture.
Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until lamb is very tender, turning twice, about 1 hour minutes. Add the carrots and continue to cook for 30 more minutes.
Uncover and continue to simmer until sauce reduces slightly, about 10 minutes longer. Spoon off fat from pan juices. Season lamb to taste with salt and pepper.
According to the recipe, all of this can be done a day ahead and then reheated, which is what I did. Stacy on Apartment Therapy: The Kitchen suggested removing the lamb shanks and refrigerate them separately which makes it easier to skim off the fat the next day. I did not do this, but next time I will.
Sprinkle with parsley and serve. We ladled some of the gravy into a gravy boat to pass around.
And so, the lamb was perfectly cooked - moist, tender and falling off the bone, but not so overcooked that it was mushy. As the red wine cooks down it intensifies and melds with the tomatoes, meat juices, the mushrooms and the leeks and results in a richly flavorful and, thanks to the herbes de provence, aromatic sauce - woodsy, slightly sweet and a little flowery.
It's very easy dish to prepare and, as is common with this sort of thing, it's better to make it a day ahead. I made sure to thoroughly skim the fat off and as a result, the meat and the sauce was surprisingly not very oily in the least. We served it with garlic rosemary polenta and grilled asparagus with lemon herb breadcrumbs. It was very nice. A week later I reheated the leftovers and served it over couscous. It was STILL very nice.
Although you could serve one shank per person (which is what we did), really there is enough meat to serve 8.