But seriously, I do usually check on it at least once...but putting the blog up into the world got the best of me...i kept writing and changing colours...and luckily my lamb shoulder just kept getting softer and softer, more tender, developing richer flavours...and now this week i have a nice shank to serve whole, and i decided to shred some of the shoulder to maybe serve later in the week with a nice warm hummus, and i will make a nice soup as well...its that easy...okay...i don't think its good to forget about your food in the kitchen...but with a braise of a big joint of meat...you are in the land of forgiveness...
Basically braising meat is cooking a very untender cut of meat covered in a liquid, at low simmer, for a long amount of time to break down the product and increase the tenderness. One begins with a sinewy, bony, fatty cut of meat that you wonder why you bought...and end up with the most flavorful and tender meal ever ( and you wonder why the butcher sold it to you so cheap...yes the braising cuts are the cheapest you can buy...why...because they don't cook in five minutes!!!)
Oven at 360 F( 180 C)
1 lamb shoulder ( mine included the shank, and some ribs, but you can do this as said above
with any hard working cut of meat...shoulder, shank, spare ribs, short ribs, tail, neck, etc...don't forget the wonderful coq au vin...braising an ole chicken works the same way...)
s, p, dried ginger and paprika ( spices to coat your meat with...sometimes i toast off fennel seeds, and then crush em in my mortar and pestle...some people like crushed thyme.. just use that coffee grinder if need be to get the right consistency...find a theme and go with it...repeat the same spice and flavor themes throughout your meal)
1 large onion, skinned and quartered
1 large carrot, peeled and cut in a 2 inch chunks
1 large stalk celery, cut in 2 inch chunks (These last three elements can be cut very small as well, but they will then be mush by the time you are finished cooking...which is okay if you are just using them for flavouring, as we often did in the restaurants, but if you want them to hold shape and be edible after 2-3 hours of cooking...then leave them quite large, as well, as always...if you don't have one of these ingredients, think of substitutes...leeks for onions, parsnips for carrots, fennel for celery...please, just cook...)
1 Head garlic, sliced in half through the middle
2 T tomato paste ( or one large tomato, diced)
Ginger, 1 inch peeled and quartered
herb stems, 1/4 cup ( parsley stems and leek greens i never toss away, i toss in the freezer and save for stocks and braises)
1 T Cumin seeds ( or fennel, or peppercorns...whole) these are for adding a bit of depth of flavour
Red wine ( or white, or beer, or ole school coca cola...not diet, the fake sugar really shows its true colors in cooking!!!!)
Water ( or veg stock, or veal stock)
WHAT TO DO
Firstly, you will need one large saute/fry pan to brown your meat and a somewhat deep casserole that is capable of holding all the products mentioned above ( they can be somewhat snug, but not jammed up).
Dry off the meat with some paper towel and then season the lamb shoulder ( you can brown the entire joint, or ask your butcher to cut it into manageable portion sizes) with the s,p, dried ginger and paprika ( or any other s,p and spice combination you like)...don't be shy...these spices will help develop the flavour and colour on your meat.
In the very very hot fry pan, add a thin coating of oil and then add your lamb shoulder. The meat should never crowd the pan if you are trying to brown it...and we want brown...to sear in flavours, moisture, and it looks beautiful. Crowding the pan will give a more steamed effect as opposed to searing...SO set the meat in the pan, setting it in away from you to keep hot oil from splashing onto you...and now let the meat and the pan do their work...don't start moving the pan and meat around...let them just do their thing...after 1 minute or so...take a look at the underside...is it getting brown( then if you like the colour flip it over ) ...is it burning ( yes, turn it over)...is nothing happening ( oops, wrong burner???)
Once the meat is browned, transfer it to the casserole dish.
In the same pan, add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, ginger, and cumin seeds to the still hot pan. ( Let these as well brown up, turning as needed)
After 2-3 minutes, add your tomato paste and stir it around with a ole school wooden spoon.
Now deglaze the pan ( which means to add a liquid into the pan to get all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan and also to add another layer of flavour) with a nice full glass of red wine.
Pour all the veggies, wine, etc over the lamb shoulder in the casserole pan.
Put the pan back on the heat and add water or stock ( the amount should be enough to come up about 2/3 of the way to the top of the products in the casserole...for this i am assuming 2-3 cups...as well some people keep this hot on another burner of the stove during this process)
Pour the boiling liquid over the lamb...cover the casserole with lid or foil...and put in the oven
After an hour, take a look in the pan, flip meat over, add a bit of water if none left...just make sure liquid is at a low simmer ( small sporadic bubbles are good), and the meat is cooking ( the meat will contract in the early stages of cooking...no don't worry...you did not over cook it...let it go...over time you will start to see it in another hour begin to stretch out like some type of salutation to the sun in yoga...the meat will begin to come away from the bone, the fat will melt into the liquid, and you will be left with a fork tender piece of meat...and remember...you can do this for cuts like chicken thighs, in about an hour...but same general process...)
Remove meat from pan, take out any vegetables you want to save and then strain the liquid into a small sauce pan (Throw away whats left in strainer). Only remove the meat from oven when it is fork tender. We want it to have the ability to fall off the bone, but not having fallen already off!!!
Simmer the sauce on the stove till you start seeing the fat lightly bubbling along the top. This is the time to skim the fat.
Fat skimming...Stir a spoon or ladle in a clockwise direction in the pan while it is still at a very low simmer. Second, use the whirling action of the liquid and now skim layers of fat liquid from the top in the reverse direction ( counter clockwise, eh)...Another option if you have time, is to chill down the liquid, the fat rises to the top, let it get cold in the fridge and scoop off the hardened fat later ( I would suggest using it as added flavoring for cooking, but many people find lamb fat a bit strong tasting, and not the healthiest option i could give)
Reduce the defatted liquid... braised dishes are great the next day...so i say, keep your sauce on the stove top and reduce the liquid by half by letting it simmer for a while...and when it is done it will be a bit thicker, and stronger tasting...yes taste it...after it has reduced to your liking...does it need salt...maybe a nice squeeze of lemon to pick it up ( you will be amazed what a little acid does to sauces and soups...at end of cooking)...now you can either cool the sauce and use it tomorrow or pour it over your lamb and serve...
Reheating braised meats... simple...put your oven back on a medium heat, and in a pan heat up a bit of the braising liquid, add the meat and when the liquid is hot, put the covered pan in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the meat is nicely hot and even more tender. If you want you can toss it under the broiler at the end of this heating process to crisp it up, swirl a lil pat of butter into the sauce to give it a nice gloss and shimmer, toss some fresh herbs in, or thin out with a touch more water if necessary...
MORE DISHES TO WASH
As written above, I most definitely left my lamb in the oven for hours and that was fine. I have wrote previously, i am trying to cook slow food, but fast. Once a week I spend the extra time braising something that will give me food for a few days...turkey legs, lamb shanks, pork belly, oxtails...but the key is that these seemingly long cooking times require no observation or time in the kitchen...Once you got it in the oven...clean up, walk away, read a book, play with your kids, take a nap, whatever...it is done... and you are not bothered.
And what did we do while cooking the lamb??? We made Red Lentil Dal, steamed brown rice, broccoli, and raita. Okay, I confess, Lauren made dinner tonight , I didn't... one of us makes this every week...its our favorite comfort food dinner and also we make enough for the next few lunches.(Don't worry you will get her Bangla recipes soon enough...the techniques are shockingly simple, the flavours have infinite layers, and the taste is amazing) Besides making a wonderful dinner, we read the NY Times, we ate dinner, we marinated some steaks in chimmichurri for Cinqo de Mayo, we formatted the blog, we just relaxed to the point that we forgot about the Lamb...poor lamb...we forgot you, and you still come out of the oven tasting like heaven...its almost not fair...
So now for the next few nights we can just whip up quick sides ( mashed root veggies, warm hummus, rice...saute spring greens, crisp salads...)...thats it...you now have meals that can be ready in no time at all...
Some say time is money...but in the case of the cheap cuts of meat ( needless to say all the cuts i speak of I buy from a local farmer...ask them what cuts to braise, ask me...) the time spent in the kitchen is low, the money is half what you pay for steak...and the result...well, you tell me!!!