May is a strange month for weather, and correspondingly for food. When the temperature swings fifty degrees in a week, it’s hard to know what to cook. During a cold, rainy snap we had a few weeks ago, I decided to make one of my favorite winter dishes as sort of a farewell salute to gray skies. This is more of a personal interpretation than a traditional ossobuco, but these flavors are so kick-ass that you won’t want to quibble over technicalities.
Makes: 2 people feel the warmth of winter, year round
Total kitchen time: 3 hours
- 2 lamb shanks, bone-in
- 1 medium union, diced
- 2 large carrots, diced
- 3 stalks celery, diced
- 4 cloves garlic
- 8 oz. shitake mushrooms, coarsely chopped
- 3 tbsp. tomato paste (tomato sauce or puree will work in a pinch)
- 2 cups wine (white for a sweeter dish, red for a more savory dish)
- 2 cups beef stock
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 1 bay leaf
- olive oil
- coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the polenta:
- 2 cups polenta, prepared
- if using firm polenta, you’ll need 1/2 cup of hot chicken stock
- 4 oz. dried wild mushrooms (porcini, shitake, morel, woodear)
- 2 tbsp. crumbled blue cheese (Rogue River is best, try Whole Foods)
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat your oven to 300°F and place the top rack in the lower part of the oven. Preheat a dutch oven or the heaviest large, ovenproof stockpot with a lid that you own. Either way, get the pot rocket hot.
- Season the lamb shanks on all sides liberally with salt and pepper. Rub lightly with olive oil to coat and to promote browning. Working one at a time, sear the lamb shanks on both sides on very high heat in your dutch oven. Place the meat in the middle of the pot and don’t touch it for 3 minutes. Flip it over and don’t touch it for another 2. Place the seared meat on a platter to rest.
- Add the onions, carrots and celery to the empty pot and reduce the heat to medium. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the veggies have slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic (whole cloves) and mushrooms and cook another 5 minutes. You should have a nice collection of brown bits at the bottom of your pot now.
- Add the tomato paste and cook another minute or so. Then, add the wine and turn the heat up to high. Scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan and reduce the wine until it has thickened a little, about 8 minutes. Add the beef stock, rosemary sprig and bay leaf and bring to a boil.
- Put the meat back in the pot and submerge it under the liquid and veggies. Put the lid on your dutch oven and transfer it to the oven to cook at least 2 hours.
- When you’re about 45 minutes out from eatin’ time, place the dried wild mushrooms in a bowl of boiling water and let them soak for 30 minutes. Then, drain and coarsely chop the mushrooms.
- Warm the cooked polenta in a medium saucepan over low heat. If you’re starting with firm polenta, add a bit of hot chicken stock to thin it out. Season the polenta with salt and pepper and add the chopped wild mushrooms. When you’re almost ready to serve, crumble in the blue cheese and stir to combine.
- When the lamb is done braising, remove the pot from the oven and place it back on the stove. Let the meat rest on a plate, tented with foil. Bring the pot to a vigorous boil and reduce the liquid until you have only 1 cup or so left, 10-15 minutes.
- Spoon a serving of polenta into the bottom of a large dinner bowl and top with a lamb shank. Cover the lamb shank with a generous helping of the reduced liquid and veggies. If you like (and I’m sure you do) add a thin slice of blue cheese on top.
Well, that’s officially the season finale for winter cooking this year. This dish is one of the heartiest, most soul satisfying meals I know, so the next time you find yourself out in the cold rain, you’ll know what to make.
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