Here’s a dish you’ll want to try while it’s still cold outside. Tender slowly braised lamb goes for a Mediterranean spin with briny olives and sweet roasted peppers, served over pearls of toasty Israeli cous-cous. Enjoyed with a glass of spicy Shiraz and good company, life is grand.
Lets talk about lamb for a minute, as it gets second shift to beef, chicken and pork in the States. Technically speaking, lamb is a sheep less than a year old. Over 1 year, it is called Yearling and over 2 years, Mutton. The older the animal, the tougher the meat and the stronger its’ flavor. Older sheep are consumed far less in the U.S. than they are in Europe and Asia.
Lamb is a nutrient dense protein, high in B-vitamins, zinc and iron. And compared to other meats, lamb has less marbling (fat running through the meat). The fat is does have is mostly on the surface and thus can be trimmed.
Lamb shoulder is considered best for braising due to the high amount of connective tissue it has. It’s the breakdown of this connective tissue from slow cooking that produces meltingly tender meat. I found boneless lamb shoulder at WholeFoods, which shockingly was not available at Fairway.
You’ll often find yourself with a choice between Domestic or Australian/New Zealand lamb at the store. In my research I’ve found that ‘Down Under’ lamb is typically grass fed and free-range, eliminating the need for added hormones and antibiotics. It can also be slightly fattier with a slightly stronger flavor. Domestic lamb is grain fed which produces milder tasting meat. The grain also bulks up the animal so a domestic cut will be larger than the same cut from Australia. And obviously domestic lamb travels far fewer miles to your table, and is arguably that many ‘miles fresher’ than imported varieties. But due to the cost of manufacturing lamb in the U.S., you’ll be hard-pressed to find antibiotic-free domestic lamb.
So what should you take away from all this? First, lamb is a delicious, nutritious alternative to beef, pork and chicken and if you don’t regularly consume it you should consider doing so! Second, this recipe is a great way to start! Like all braises, it gets better the second day so if you like make it on Sunday afternoon and enjoy it Monday night when you get home from work feeling tired and in need of something comforting, filling, healthy and different.
lamb ragout with olives and peppers
- 2 Tbs canola oil
- 2 lbs boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2″ cubes
- kosher salt/pepper
- 1/2 large Spanish onion, chopped
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 2 medium carrots, chopped
- 2 Tbs tomato paste
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 3 1/2 cups water
- 2 Tbs cornstarch slurry (2 Tbs cornstarch whisked with 2 Tbs water)
- 1/2 cup sliced Picholine or other green olives
- 3/4 cup roasted red peppers, sliced
- 1 Tbs parsley, chopped
1. Preheat oven to 300. In large dutch oven or other cast iron casserole, heat oil until shimmering. Pat lamb dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Add lamb to casserole in a single layer, working in batches, and brown all sides of lamb cubes, 3-4 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.
2. Add onions, celery and carrots to pan. Cook until vegetables are soft and have partially de-glazed pan, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until paste is slightly browned, 3-4 minutes. Add the wine and de-glaze, scraping any remaining browned bits with a wooden spoon until wine is nearly evaporated. Add the water, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Return lamb and any accumulated juices to pan. Cover and braise in oven 2 1/2 – 3 hours or until lamb is completely fork tender.
3. Transfer lamb to a platter and coarsely shred the meat. Strain the broth over a bowl (reserving broth). Return broth to pan and skim fat from the surface using a spoon. Add cornstarch slurry and bring broth to a boil, then simmer to thicken, about 10 minutes. If desired, return vegetables to sauce. Add the olives, red peppers and parsley.
Serve over Israeli cous-cous*, wide egg noodles or rice.
Serves 4 main course portions
* for gluten-free, use rice. Israeli cous cous is not gluten-free.
Recipe adapted from Food and Wine magazine.