Sunday, June 1, 2014

First Day of Winter

Welcome to the first day of winter here in the southern hemisphere. We could be forgiven for thinking that it would never get here, given the unseasonably warm weather that we have been experiencing. Autumn barely made an appearance at all, and frankly I feel a little bit ripped off, given how much I love the cooler weather (actually, the colder the better as far as I'm concerned). Happily, we got some welcome rain overnight and  the day has been cool, with a steely grey winter sky - just gorgeous.

I headed out into the garden to check out how my winter veges are faring, and they were looking beautiful and healthy after a soaking of rain. The lettuce is ready to start harvesting this week, I picked the last of the tomatoes, the first baby carrots should be ready in another couple of weeks, as well as the spring onions. I plan to plant some beetroot and maybe a few other vegetables in the coming weeks. Always a good idea to plant a few vegetables at different times, so you have things to pick at various times during the winter. The herbs, such as parsley, lemon balm, chives, sage and bay leaves are all powering along. I used fresh bay and parsley from my garden in today's recipe.

I thought I would welcome Winter with the comfort food of comfort foods - slow cooked lamb shanks. They are the perfect dish to cook if you are having a lazy Sunday at home. Although the cooking time is long - about 3 hours - the preparation time is short, and there are minimal ingredients. It's set and forget cooking.

To make the dish more complex, you could always add vegetables such as carrots, parsnip and celery with the meat  - but I keep mine really simple, preferring to add fresh vegetables after the meat is cooked as side dishes. With a rich dish like this, I think it's good to have some fresh greens or other vegetables on the side to balance things out a bit and provide contrast to the richness. Because the cooking time is so long, if you put veges in the pot, they are going to break down completely anyway - and believe me, these lamb shanks already have buckets of flavour, so they don't need help in that department.

A dish like lamb shanks really benefits from being served with creamy potato mash or polenta to soak up all that delicious sauce - not to mention that buttery, falling off the bone tender meat. Enjoy this gorgeous welcome to Winter dish.

Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks

You will need: 
4 lamb shanks, 2 large sliced brown onions, 1 large sliced red onion, 2 cups beef stock, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1 bay leaf, 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley stalks, 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves, 1 tablespoon butter, 2 cloves finely chopped garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 4 teaspoons cornflour, salt and pepper to taste.

For the seasoning mix:
2 tablespoons plain flour, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, pinch of cayenne pepper.

Method: Preheat the oven to 160C.

Combine all of the seasoning mix ingredients and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and while that is happening, coat the lamb shanks well in the seasoning mix. Add the shanks to the pan and cook until very well browned on all sides. Transfer the lamb to an ovenproof casserole dish.

Add the butter, and when this has melted, the onions and the bay leaf. Cook the onions on a medium heat until very soft. Add the parsley stalks, paprika, brown sugar and garlic. Cook and combine well for another 5 minutes. Add the onion mixture to the lamb.

Combine the stock and the soy, and pour over the lamb. Cover well with foil (I use 2 layers) - or a tight lid.
Cook the lamb covered for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, uncover the lamb, add half of the parsley leaves, stir well and cook uncovered for a further 30 minutes. Combine the cornflour with a little cold water until smooth. Remove the lamb from the oven and stir through the cornflour and water mixture quickly. Taste the sauce for seasoning and add salt and pepper as required. Return it to the oven for another half an hour. Finish off with fresh parsley to serve.

Note: Depending on the amount of fat in the individual lamb shanks, you may end up with a thin layer of oil on the top of the dish. I choose to get rid of this and use a big spoon to skim it off before serving.

Serves 4 people.


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