POM Pomegranate Lamb Shank
Lamb is one of those traditional ingredients of spring. These days, world-wide distribution and modern farming methods allow lamb to be available year round (for better or worse), but for many years, lamb was only available in the springtime. Lamb is a great meat to use with pomegranate juice -- it's often paired with sweet condiments like mint jelly, and the complex pomegranate flavors go well with the earthiness of the meat. For this month's POM blogger entry, I wanted to use a part of lamb that isn't as familiar as chops. Lamb shank is economical, and is very tasty. Served pulled over linguine, with vegetables and fresh herbs, and this meal delivers a lot of flavor, but is very easy to cook.
Braising is simply cooking meat slowly, surrounded by liquid, after first searing it to give some flavor. Using a crockpot is a form of braising, and if the meat is first seared, then using a crockpot pretty much is braising.
I start by trimming excess fat off two lamb shanks. It doesn't have to be a perfect job, but removing the fat now saves me from having to skim it out of the sauce later. Most of the shiny connective tissue can actually be left on -- I'll be removing the meat later, it adds some body to the sauce, and it actually helps hold the shank together while cooking.
The lamb will be braised with an assortment of vegetables. I used a large shallot, some garlic cloves, a couple stalks of celery, a cherry pepper for a bit of zing, and a couple carrots. I cleaned and chopped the vegetables, but left the garlic pretty much whole (it'll be removed later).
I heated a 12-inch pan on medium high until it was hot, then added about a tablespoon of oil. I placed the shanks in the oil, then added some salt and cracked black pepper, turning the shanks until each side was browned.
Once the shanks were browned, I removed them and added the vegetables. These were heated until the carrots were soft.
I made some room in the center, and added the shanks back in again.
For the liquid, I added 2-3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, a cup of POM 100% pomegranate juice, and a cup of chicken stock. I also added a couple sprigs of fresh thyme and a couple sprigs of fresh oregano. Rosemary would also work really well, and is a traditional lamb herb.
The liquid shouldn't be enough to cover more than half the shanks, and this will be different depending on the size of your pan. About 1/3rd to halfway up the shanks is good. If you need more liquid, add some more chicken stock, or just water.
The liquid is brought up to a simmer, then the shanks go into a preheated 275 degree oven for two hours. After one hour, I flipped the shanks so the top part is now submerged by the liquid. Again, due to pan sizes, the liquid levels might go down -- add more chicken stock or water if the liquid level falls below a half-inch depth or so. As long as the liquid doesn't actually boil (a slow simmer is fine, an extremely light simmer is great), the shanks will now cook themselves. I actually went out and got a haircut while they cooked.
After a couple hours, the meat pulls easily from the bone. They can braise longer -- up to four hours, as long as there's still at least a half-inch to an inch of liquid in the bottom of the pan, and the shanks are turned every hour or so.
Once the pan is out of the oven, I moved the shanks off to the side to cool enough to handle, and removed the pepper, the herbs, and the garlic from the sauce, and skimmed the liquid to remove most of any fat floating on top.
I chopped about 6 ounces of crimini (baby bella) mushrooms into quarters and added them to the liquid. I brought all of that up to a simmer to allow the liquid to soak into the mushrooms.
I pulled the meat from the shanks and chopped into bite-sized pieces. Bits of connective tissue are pretty easy to remove at this point.
To finish the sauce, I added the chopped meat back to the liquid, added a bit of roux (about a tablespoon of flour and butter) if the sauce needed thickening, then served it over linguine with some fresh oregano.
Ingredients -- serves 4: 1 cup POM 100% Pomegranate Juice 1 cup chicken stock (use low-sodium if canned) 2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar 2 lamb shanks (just over 1 pound each) 2 celery stalks 2 medium carrots 4 garlic cloves 1 large shallot 1 cherry pepper (optional, gives some zing) bunch fresh herbs (I used thyme and oregano. Rosemary and marjoram would work well, too) 6 oz fresh mushrooms 1/2 to 1 pound linguine, cooked
Deconstruction: Really tasty. I was worried the pomegranate juice might make this dish a little sweet, but it was just right -- this was less sweet than (for example...) a lot of Asian dishes, not to mention that powerful mint jelly stuff. This type of braise can typically use a fruity red wine with the stock, and pomegranate juice made a really good (and healthy) substitution. Rice could also be used to hold this dish up, but I like linguine. It's the Goldilocks of the long pastas, I think -- not too big (like fettuccine) and not too little (like angel hair). Overall, there was satisfying complexity to the flavors -- herbal and succulent, sweet and a bit of a kick from the pepper, earthy and fruity.