Mission Accomplished

My good buddy Jerry and I have been talking about lamb shanks for a very long time. When we get hungry, one of our favorite topics centers on lamb shanks: why slow and low cooking is essential to their tender-to-the-bone succulence, and how all that bone intensely flavors the meat. They truly are a labor of love.

A mound of Basque Lamb Shanks

We can talk for hours about the best way to prepare them. Of course, Jerry considers himself an authority on lamb shanks, with good reason.  He lived in Boise, Idaho for many years, and at one time married into a clan of Basques who cooked lamb like nobody’s business. He also made a point of frequenting the region’s Basque restaurants and managed to get into the kitchens of some of the best. Of one in particular, Jerry maintains they credited their outrageous lamb shanks to a slow oven simmer in an awesome sauce based on mushrooms, red wine and sundried tomatoes.

One weekend, we decided to stop talking and tackle the lamb shanks. We knew what we had to do and we were ready!  Lucky us, we found absolute beauties at Roth’s Market that were just our size. One additional challenge:  to utilize my fairly new Instant Pot, which sears, braises, and slow cooks until the cows come home.  Two of these shanks fit perfectly in the pot, and still, there would be more food that we could possibly eat in one sitting.

Jerry pulled out his knives and did the honors of stripping the shanks of excess fat, silver, and sinew until they were perfectly prepped and ready for the pot. It is attention to such details that can make the difference between ok and outstanding.

Once the shanks were well browned off and holding in the slow cooker, the vegetables were sautéed in the pan’s drippings and added to the cooker. The pan was deglazed with wine and poured over the shanks, followed by the sundried tomatoes and their liquid, the beef stock, and herbs. Now, it was just a matter of time for the preliminary sauce to work its magic on the shanks.

Lamb Shank, partially devoured

And so it did—to perfection. Although the photos indicate a mound of meat, in no way do they give adequate credit to the lamb shanks. In fact, they were taken in an absolute rush and secondary to the mission at hand.  We had our hands full!!

Basque Lamb Shanks, Slow Cooker

Ingredients
2 lamb shanks, @ 1.25 lbs each
1-2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil
1 medium onion, chop
1 carrot, peel chop
5 cloves garlic, mince
1 cup or more cremini mushrooms, chop
½ cup dry red wine
¼ cup sundried tomatoes, reconstituted in 1/2 cup water and cut up. Save water.
½ cup beef stock, approximate; more as needed to thin sauce
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon lemon grated zest

Directions 

  1. Trim silver and fat from shanks.
  2. Heat a wide skillet over medium heat and pour in oil to coat pan. Sprinkle shanks with salt and pepper and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes, and transfer to slow cooker.
  3. If necessary drizzle additional oil into the pot. Add onion, carrot, and garlic to pan and cook stirring often, until onion softens. Add the mushrooms and cook to release their liquid; transfer to slow cooker.  Deglaze pan with wine and add to slow cooker.
  4. Add all ingredients except lemon zest, cover and cook for about 3 hours on high and test for tenderness. Add lemon zest and cook for approximately 1 hour longer approximately, or until the meat pulls back from the bone and is fork-tender. Adjust seasoning and serve with more lemon. Serves 2 very hungry people.

 

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Jerk Pork: it’s grill time!

It’s summertime and the living is stunningly easy here on the homestead.  Especially now that I have finally located another folding grill!  What was once called the Pyromid has resurfaced under the new name of EcoQue, and I couldn’t be happier.  This unique stainless steel grill not only folds neatly into its own 2” thick tote for easy storage, it produces temperatures close to 900 degrees on its 12” surface with only 9 charcoal briquettes.

I apologize, I did not intend the post to become a sales pitch for this adorable grill, but I guess I can’t help myself. I am utterly thrilled that it hasn’t completely disappeared!  With the new grill at hand, my first order of business was to grill off a little celebratory jerk pork.

Jerk Pork

Jerk Pork

This popular Bahamian marinade makes anything taste better.  It’s wonderful hot off the grill on chicken, fish, beef, or pork and it is even better the next day. Jerk meats remain so moist and flavorful they are ideal for picnics and travel. Today, I’m cooking a thick chunk of pork but 3 to 4 pounds of chicken or beef will work just as well.

Jerk Pork, Chicken, or Beef

Ingredients
3 – 4 lb.  pork, chicken or beef ribs
Jerk Marinade
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg and cinnamon
3 tablespoons fresh thyme
1/2 cup green onions, chop
1 clove garlic, minced
4 scotch bonnet chiles, or jalapeno peppers, seed
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt

Directions

  1. For marinade: place all ingredients in blender and puree for 2 minutes.
  2. Massage the meat well with the marinade and marinate several house or overnight.  Any extra marinade can be reserved for dipping if not used for brushing the meat on the grill.
  3. Preheat the grill to medium-low heat.  Drain and pat the meat dry.  Brush the grill with oil.  Grill, turning and brushing with marinade as needed until nicely browned all over and pork reaches an internal temperature of 160°, beef is between 145-160°, and chicken reaches 165°.

 

 

Moussaka’s Béchamel: heart of the matter

Just because moussaka is made in a dish and baked in the oven, it’s a travesty to classify this glorious creation as only a family casserole.  In the truest sense it is just that, though—one big dish made with  familiar ingredients found lying around any imageswell-stocked Greek kitchen, like eggplant, lamb, and a world class béchamel sauce.

Although the béchamel’s roots are classically French, the Greeks adopted their own version of this masterful sauce and never looked back.  The traditional béchamel sauce made with milk and a roux for thickening does not contain eggs, but Greek versions are known to frequently include egg yolks or whole eggs.

The addition of eggs to their beloved bessamel, creates a thick, creamy sauce substantial enough for layering or topping dishes such as moussaka or pastitsio.  Depending on who is cooking, the béchamel sauce may appear in any number of places in the moussaka:  on the bottom of it, in the middle and/or on the top.  Wherever it is placed, it plays a predominant role in balancing these big flavors and textures.

There are several steps to this hearty moussaka, but none are complicated.  The vegetables are baked off in the oven—which allows plenty of time to cook the meat sauce and prepare the béchamel.

moussaka edit 2For the béchamel, I prefer a lighter sauce made with butter cut with olive oil.  Flour is stirred into this heated mixture and slowly cooked to created a roux, the basis of the sauce.   Milk is then added to the roux, which  magically thickens the milk as it heats.  The  addition of eggs further thickens and creates a rich supple sauce.  A bit of grated cheese, a touch salt, white pepper and nutmeg provide dimension and round out the flavors.

To assemble the moussaka, a preliminary coating of bread crumbs sprinkled into the baking dish will help to absorb any excess liquid and bind with the potatoes to create a cohesive bottom for easier portioning.

The completed dish can be made ahead, covered with foil, refrigerated, and baked later.  For best result, be sure to allow extra time for the moussaka to rest before cutting it.   Serve with orzo and a field green salad tossed with cucumbers, tomatoes and onions.

Moussaka 

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil, approx.
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 medium eggplant, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into about 1/2″ thick slices
  • 1 to 1 ½ lb. Yukon gold or red potatoes, if large halved lengthwise and sliced 1/2″ thick

Tomato-Meat Sauce

  •  2 tsp olive oil
  •  1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
  •  3 cloves garlic, crushed
  •  1 lb. lean ground lamb or beef
  •  1 tsp oregano
  •  1/4 tsp cinnamon
  •  1/8 tsp allspice
  •  1 bay leaf
  •  salt and pepper
  •  1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  •  2 tbsp tomato paste

Béchamel Sauce

  •  2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp all purpose flour
  •  3 cups milk
  •  1 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp white pepper
  •  1/4 tsp nutmeg
  •  1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  •  2 eggs, lighten beaten and warmed with 2 tbsp of the hot sauce

   Bottom Coating:  1 cup dried bread crumbs
   Cheese Topping:  1 cup grated Kefalotiri cheese or crumbled Greek feta

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Slice the eggplant, lightly salt it and allow it to drain in strainer for 10-15 minutes.  Blot dry with toweling and layer in rows on oiled baking sheet.  Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and, drizzle lightly with olive oil and bake in 425 degree oven until they begin to brown slightly, 30- 40 minutes.
  3. Slice potatoes and place on oiled baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and bake at 425 degrees until they begin to brown, 30 – 40 minutes.
  4. For the tomato-meat sauce, sauté onion and garlic over low heat in oil.  Add the meat and cook until it turns color, drain any excessive liquid or fat.  Add the herbs, spices, salt and pepper and cook until meat begins to brown.  Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste, bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cook slightly covered 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Adjust seasoning.
  5. For béchamel sauce, heat olive oil and butter in saucepan, stir in the flour and cook over low heat for about 3 minutes, until smooth and thick.  Pour in the milk, whisking to avoid lumps.  Cook over medium low heat, whisking until it smooth, thick, and flavors have soften, about 10 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, and slowly pour in a few tablespoons of the hot sauce to temper eggs and avoid curdling.  Remove sauce from the heat, stir in the Parmesan cheese and the warmed egg mixture; whisk until silky and smooth.  Add salt, pepper and nutmeg.   Briefly return to heat, whisking until well heated; adjust seasoning.
  6. To finish the moussaka preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Oil a 9×13″ pan or a gratin dish and sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over bottom.  Next, layer all the potatoes into the dish; cover them with half of the meat sauce.  Layer the eggplant on top and smooth the remaining meat sauce over the eggplant.  Carefully spoon the béchamel over the top and sprinkle it with cheese.  Cover the dish with foil and bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes.  Remove foil and bake until the top is bubbly and begins to brown, 55 to 60 minutes total.
  7. Let the moussaka rest 20 minutes before cutting. Yield:  8 servings.