This recipe is included in the Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook – check it out!!
Heading to the South for the holidays involves a set ‘to-do’ list: visiting gramma, eating homemade biscuits, Aunt Faye’s chicken pastry & the rest of her spread, getting a chicken biscuit at Bojangles, finding a good NC BBQ joint (complete with Cheerwine & eastern NC vinegar sauce), spending loads of time with family, and going bowling with high school friends. This year, a brick oven and a guy named Mark were added to this list.
Mark & his wife, Dee, are good friends with my in-laws, and they have rotating dinner parties with a decently large group of other couples such as the Coxes & the Balls (no, I did not make up those names – the “Hickeys” are also good friends of theirs, but they don’t participate in the dinner festivities). Word on the street was that Mark is a pretty hard-core cook, and so someone got this wild idea for us to hang out and cook together while Hubs and I were home for the holidays. The email strings started shortly thereafter, and in no time Mark and I became cyber foodie buddies and were planning away.
It’s not every day that I get to chat about cooking techniques, pizza flours, and olive oils with someone who is thoroughly interested. I mean, I generally spend plenty of time talking (or typing) to myself and to those of you in cyberworld who care to read, but at the end of the day, I have a totally different career from food and in general, I don’t get into those conversations nearly as much as I’d like to (although one of my resolutions may change that).
Let’s be clear, the food conversations with Hubs are almost as difficult as cutting a perfect tournée. Although he likes hearing about some things, like how to make healthy fried chicken or how I infused bacon into soup without us actually eating bacon (which is by definition infusing), he could care less about watching either gelatin and sugar syrup morph into marshmallow fluff or a tiny ball of yeast and flour become a colassal mass of yeasted goodness, and I’m sure he wonders how even the ‘simplest’ things make me grin like a Cheshire cat.
But grin I do. It’s the seemingly minute aspects of life that really “do it” for me – like talking about pizza flour and how the nice (and cute) Italian guy at Pasticceria Natalina sold me Caputo 00 flour out of his bulk bag (and for cheap!), or sitting here watching snow fall like confetti at New Years parties and thinking I must be inside a snow globe because it’s so thick and white and pretty (yet I’m still dry…that is, until I have to walk down the sidewalks full of it).
Or like cooking with, and for, people who until very recently were practically strangers to me (although I apparently met them at our wedding) and how all the while, I felt as if I’ve known them for years. Food does that – it brings people together, unites them in a way that few other things can, minus sports. It doesn’t matter how young or old we are, how many kids we have, whether we have cats or dogs or both, or even if we pray and what or who we pray to. You cook good food, and it makes people happy. And that’s something to talk about for hours.
That does it for me.
And during those few hours, we whipped up a feast for six although it felt and looked like enough for a dozen. We threw together some pizzas with whatever was in the fridge, cooking it the “right” way – via an ultra-hot wood-burning brick oven. We braised lamb shanks and served them with butternut squash (among other things) and spinach – all with an Asian flair, the night’s “theme”. We ate and ate and drank good Spanish wine and then we ate dessert – a rich, creamy green tea and pomegranate panna cotta I concocted in advance.
In the end, we had a great time with great conversation, and the food was more than edible. I fell in love with the brick oven and with a puppy, much to Hubs’ dismay. I have no idea which one I might procure first – likely the brick oven from the sounds of it, and that’s not even happening in this decade. Ultimately we added one more stop to our NC holiday itinerary. But next time, next time screw the Viking stovetop – it’s the brick oven all the way!
Asian-Spiced Lamb Shanks
Original recipe, adapted on the fly by my new friend, Mark; serves 4 but is easily adaptable to more
i hope you like flavor because these are loaded with it. we served our shanks with a butternut squash puree (ours included onions and various root vegetables (Christmas leftovers!) pureed with brick oven-roasted butternut squash with soy sauce, brown sugar, 5-spice powder, cinnamon, ginger, milk, and lime juice) and wilted spinach (sauteed with garlic & ginger). enjoy!
1 T evoo
4 whole lamb shanks
salt & pepper
2 T five spice powder, divided
1/2 t g cinnamon
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 star anise pod
3 T Chinese rice wine
1/3 c soy sauce
2 T tamarind concentrate*
2 T brown sugar
2 T chopped ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bottle of Chinese beer**
1 T flour (or 1 T cornstarch dissolved in a little water)
lime juice, if needed
Heat large skillet over med-hi heat with oil. Combine salt, pepper, 1 T five-spice and ground cinnamon in small bowl. Rub mixture onto lamb shanks. Sear lamb shanks on each side until nicely browned and remove from pan, place on plate and sit aside.
Preheat oven to 225 F.
Toast cinnamon stick, chili flakes, remaining five-spice, & star anise pod in a small skillet. Mix with Chinese rice wine, soy, tamarind concentrate, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, beer. Arrange seared lamb shanks in large dutch oven, pour spice mixture over. Cover.
Place dutch oven in oven and braise for 1 ¼ hr. Increase heat to 300 and braise another 1 ¼ hr. Increase heat again to 350 F and braise another 45 minutes – 1 hour, until meat is falling off the bone. Remove from oven, and keep warm.
Strain braising juices into another pot. Add 1 T flour and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer until sauce is thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper and freshen with lime juice if desired.
Optional: if preparing lamb shanks ahead of time, place shanks and thickened braising liquid back into dutch oven and refrigerate up to 3 days. Reheat over medium, skimming any fat that has accumulated.
Serve shanks with thickened sauce and your chosen sides.
*There was no tamarind concentrate to be found in Greensboro, NC (and not time to mail-order), so Mark found tamarind pods at Harris Teeter and crushed them and let them simmer in some orange juice until reduced to a thick consistency.
**You can use water or beef stock if you prefer. If you do though, increase the spices a little bit.
p.s. – thanks, Susan (my MIL), for the pictures! Yours turned out much better than mine since I accidentally left the macro setting on. oops! xoxo