Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Braised Lamb Shanks and Saffron Pearl Couscous with Cranberries and Almonds

Braised Lamb Shank
I always feel like I’m committing a culinary faux pas braising in the middle of June. I try my best to keep things seasonal but it just doesn’t happen when lamb shanks are on sale. How can I say no when there's marrow involved? Lamb shanks have to be braised (I honestly can't think of any other way to cook a shank cut) but I refuse to turn on the oven for 4 hours so I put the Le Creuset to good use on the stovetop.

I tied the lamb shanks so they would keep their shape while cooking but it was futile. After about an hour of cooking, the shanks contorted out of the strings entirely. Same thing happened when I made Osso Buco. meh, oh well.

Red Wine Braised Lamb Shank
2 lbs lamb shanks, roughly 2 1/2 to 3 inches thick
1 medium onion, small dice
1 medium carrot, small dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp tomato paste
3 - 4 large thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 C dry red wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive, vegetable, or canola oil
Water or chicken stock as needed
Chopped parsley or chiffonade basil for garnish

Salt and pepper the lamb shanks. Tie the shanks around the perimeter tightly with a piece of twine.

Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat. Brown the lamb shanks on all sides, paying particular attention to the two flat sides. Remove the shanks and set aside.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the diced onion, diced carrots, and a large pinch of salt to the pan. Cook the vegetables, stirring occasionally and scrape up the brown bits, until they are translucent. Then add the tomato paste and minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds to a minute for the tomato paste to slightly caramelize. Return the shanks and any accumulated juices to the pan, and add the red wine, thyme, bay leaf, some more salt and pepper, and enough chicken stock or water to barely cover the shanks. Bring the contents up to a boil first then lower the heat to a bare simmer. Cover and cook for 3 - 4 hours or until the shanks are falling apart soft.

When the shanks have finished cooking, gently take them out of the pan and set aside. Take out the bay leaves and the thyme sprig. Turn the heat up to medium and reduce the sauce by half or until it is thick and syrupy. Serve the sauce on top of the lamb shanks and top with a little chopped basil or parsley if desired.

This was the perfect opportunity to cook up the Israeli or pearl couscous I got from Trader Joes. I hate how expensive (8 oz. for $3) this stuff is because I am seriously hooked! It looks so cute and bubbly and each grain, though it's more like a pasta than a grain, is more distinct and has more chew than regular couscous. While looking for a cheaper source, I found a few items on Amazon but I don't want 12 8oz. boxes or one 22 pound bag of it, so the search continues.

I cooked the couscous in a little chicken stock with saffron and added some cranberries and some toasted almonds but pine nuts would be just as good. Next time, I would chop up the cranberries so they can mingle better with the couscous. Steven was really skeptical about the cranberries with the saffron but it really works. The recipe on the back of the couscous box called for raisins so I didn't see why I couldn't sub some cranberries instead. I've never been a fan of raisins but I can eat dried cranberries by the handful. It's one of the few things I can justify buying at Costco. But if raisins are your thing, by all means use them.

Saffron Israeli Couscous with Cranberries and Almonds
serves 4

8 oz. (about 1 1/3 C) Israeli Couscous
1 3/4 C + more if needed chicken stock
Large pinch of saffron
1/4 C dried cranberries, chopped
1/4 C toasted almond slices or slivers or pine nuts
2 Tbsp chopped chives (or sub with parsley)
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
2 Tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Steep the saffron threads in 1/4 cup of hot but not boiling chicken stock for 15 - 20 minutes.

Bring the remaining half cup of chicken stock to a boil and set aside.

Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the couscous and toast until the pasta is golden brown. Turn the heat down to low and add the saffron liquid, hot chicken stock and some salt and pepper and simmer covered until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the couscous is soft with a slight chew, add more stock or water if necessary, about 12 minutes.

Off heat stir in the cranberries, herbs, and tablespoon of butter. Season with more salt and pepper if needed. Top with toasted almonds or pine nuts.


Dewi said...

Love Israeli couscous, what a perfect idea to serve this for your lamb.

Meeta K. Wolff said...

looks absolutely comforting! love the couscous!

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

I mirror what everyione else is saying. This is a very comforting dish.

la takahashi said...

Love your recipes. I will try making the lamb shanks.

Anonymous said...

If it had been warmer til the middle of June I probably wouldn't think of braising either, but until this week, it hasn't been hot at all. I'll have to get a box of that couscous from TJ's too!

Audrey said...

I'm so glad you posted this because I've been looking for pearl couscous and forgot to check TJs! And someone brought saffron back for me from Spain! (No lamb shanks right now, maybe, but definitely someday...and I'll make the couscous in the meantime!)

michelle @ thursday night smackdown said...

i saw the picture and was like, wait a minute, braising? but then i read the part about the lamb shanks on sale, and it all made perfect sense. well plated.

Anonymous said...

since it's winter in australia, i think i will be making lamb shanks for dinner this weekend. thanks for sharing the recipe.

Conor @ HoldtheBeef said...

Oh, yum! Like Sylvia I am also enjoying(?!) an Australian winter and lamb shanks sound like the perfect remedy for all this rain and wind.

I still seem to be eating the same amount of ice cream though..

Anonymous said...

this looks so good! your garden is adorable!

Cristina said...

Hello, i loved both recipes, but the second will be very useful for some dried cranberries i have for long. I'm tired of cranberries muffins... :)

I've heard about Le Creuset but i dont know the advantages. It reproduces oven-making?

Sorry for my bad english, dont have much practice writing.


Unknown said...

Israeli couscous is readily available at Big Lots for less than $1.50 a bag. I load up on this widely useable ingredient whenever I shop there.

Big Lots also has a large selection of weird and hard to find international items.

Also check out your 'discount /dented can' grogeries. I recently picked up 5 20lb bags of Nishiki rice for $2.00 a bag at my local "poor folks" grocery.

Unknown said...

This recipe looks beautiful. I plan to use it for Easter dinner. May make a few changes.... I never follow recipes to the letter :-)

Amy said...

@johnnyoh, I'll keep an eye out for the couscous. Glad you like the recipe, let me know how it turns out.


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