We are pretty much nuts about lamb at Chez Mayhew. But it took us awhile getting there.
When I was a child, once in a blue moon, lamb would appear on our table. It was always accompanied by mint jelly, one of the foulest affronts to gastronomy ever devised. I was told the mint jelly was there to mask the strong flavor of the lamb. Which, of course, led me to form the opinion that anything so disgusting that it required something even more disgusting to disguise the taste probably wasn’t something I wanted to consume again…ever.
And for many years I didn’t. And then, for reasons I can’t remember, I cooked a lamb chop the way it’s supposed to be done, medium. And it was like the best steak I ever had but different. Of course, the problem with lamb chops is they are teeny tiny. It takes a lot of lamb chops to fill up Mark Mayhew, let me tell you. And they are expensive.
However, I was at my beloved Publix just before Easter and they had lamb shanks in the meat department. I had never cooked a lamb shank. They are rather imposing because by their very shape you know exactly where on the lamb they came from, even if they are now wrapped in a Styrofoam container with a bar code. I am not ashamed to admit when I don’t know how to do something so I go to the internet and look for the best braised lamb shank recipe I can find. Here’s the rule of thumb on cooking methods for meat: Tender cuts see the grill or the cast iron skillet over high heat. Tough cuts are browned in a deep oven-proof pot and then covered with some kind of liquid and cooked slowly in the oven, which is what braising is all about. That is pretty much it.
I did learn a trick about lamb shanks, or any shank of anything for that matter. If you make a deep incision at the narrowest part of the shank next to the bone, you will cut the tendon and allow the meat to sort of form a lollypop shape. Kind of like that Fred Flintstone huge haunch of meat thing.
So I chose a recipe from Anne Burrell, who is one of the most accomplished chefs on the Food Network. It was totally easy and the results were spectacular if I do say so myself, which I do. The shanks came out meltingly tender. One thing Miss Anne Burrell does not tell you in this recipe is what to do with the braising liquid. You do not want to just throw it away. Just take out the shanks and put the pot on the stove, with the burner on high. Boil the liquid down until it becomes a thick sauce. Eat out of the pot with a spoon. Just kidding. Put it over the shanks, of course.