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08 February 2009


Leg of lamb from Sea Breeze

Today's ingredient post is brought to you by the Chef, in his own voice:

Pick an ingredient. Any ingredient.

Something simple. It doesn’t have to cost a lot. Lamb shanks. Start with the best lamb you can find, hopefully from a local rancher, grown humanely. They taste better. Truly.

What goes well with lamb shanks? Garlic, thyme, mustard, mint, black pepper, sea salt, and red wine — all simple ingredients as well.

How do you want to cook the lamb? Well, it’s the dead of winter, so plunking it down on the grill doesn’t feel appropriate. Winter is braising weather, a long slow cook in a liquid.

Drop the lamb shanks in a big Dutch oven, or the biggest bowl you own. Chop up two carrots, two celery stalks, one large onion, and 5 or 6 cloves of garlic. They don’t have to be perfect. Take your time but don’t fret. Splash in a bottle of red wine and slide that pot into the refrigerator overnight.

Most of the best parts of cooking happen when you are not looking.

The next day, remove the shanks. Strain the red wine. Save the mirepoix. Pat down the lamb shanks and season them with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Get a sauté pan hot, screaming hot, almost hotter than you think is reasonable. (Turn on the fan above your stove.) Pour in some oil. Sear the shanks, browning them on all sides, making sure the oil doesn’t spit on your wrists. Plop those seared shanks back into the Dutch oven, waiting.

Drain off the fat. Add in the mirepoix. Caramelize those vegetables — they might flame up at first, so don’t let it scare you — which means they’re lovely warm and brown, softened and yielding. Throw in some thyme. Dollop in some mustard. Coat all the vegetables, and then toss in 5 or 6 sprigs of mint. Pour in the wine. (See how much of these tasks are the same, again and again?) Scrape up all the goodness from the bottom of the pan — you don’t want to lose that. Reduce. (So much of flavor comes from waiting for the food to do its mysterious dance, over which we have no control.) Pour in some stock, maybe lamb if you have it (you probably don’t have lamb stock lying around the house) or chicken stock. Homemade is best, but sometimes the good boxed stuff is okay. Life is imperfect. Bring the liquid to a boil.

Plop in those shanks again. Cover the pot. Slide it into an oven (oh yeah, you should have preheated it long before, to 350°.). Let the shanks braise for 3 hours, during which time you can leave the kitchen to dance with your husband or write an essay or talk on the phone or contemplate the early dark afternoons. Come back and test the shanks. When you take the tongs to them, and the meat is tender all the way to the bone, take them out.

You’re almost there.

Set the shanks aside. Strain the liquid of all the vegetables and herbs, until it’s smooth and pure. Put it back on the burner and reduce. Wait. Reduce. Skim the scum from the surface as it arises. Taste it. Don’t wait for a certain amount of time or until someone else says it’s done. Taste that sauce. It should taste like the mustard, the mint, the lamb, and the seasonings. And all the anticipation while you waited for it to be done.


It all started with the lamb.

Hi, it's Shauna again:

After I fell in love with the Chef and started to learn to cook with him, I relaxed. And then I realized something that broke it all open for me: recipes are stories.

A recipe is the story of you standing in front of the stove, turning on the burners and chopping onions. Maybe there’s music playing, maybe you have tension in your shoulders, maybe your kids are running around your feet. One of the burners isn’t working and you only have red onions, not white. No one could ever cook the same meal from one recipe. Recipes are suggestions, verbal guideposts. Words can only be a finger pointing toward food on a plate.

I wish that I could write all recipes in this relaxed, narrative fashion the Chef just dictated. What would you think if they were?

And how do you like to cook lamb?

p.s. We're both aware that the photograph above is of a leg of lamb, not shanks. But it's so striking, the photograph of this lamb from Sea Breeze farms, and so delicious, that we had to share. If you'd like to see how we took this leg of lamb from raw to cooked, click here.


At 8:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only found you last summer. My daughter had just found out that she is sensitive to wheat (not all out gluten-allergic) and my mom had just been told by her doctor that she should no longer have gluten at all. My friend suggested your blog to me and I've passed it on to my daughter and mom. I have a regret that even though we live in Seattle, I never was able to treat my daughter to a meal at Chef's restaurant before he 'came home' to work. (My mom lives in TN so treating her to that meal would've been more difficult!)
In the meantime, I've come to look forward to your posts. I enjoy your writing style and the stories of your daughter are warm and heart-felt. I prayed for her (and you!) during the first few days of her life when you were hoping all was OK with her. To read about your life creating your latest cookbook and the ebb and flow of your days makes me think that we should all live that way ...
I enjoy YOUR writing, and I likewise enjoyed this post by your husband this evening. I created our dinner tonight much the way he described the Lamb today ... some pork tenderloin, some cranberries, some raspberry vinegar, some red onion ... a little brown sugar ... a bit of searing, then finishing off in the oven ....
I love cooking that way ... by heart.
Thanks for your impact in our world.

At 9:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate your blog and the "story" at the stove. My cooking story often starts with a conversation with my mom (who lives down the street). What are we going this week for dinner (we often eat at each other's home) and an HOUR later, we're still talking about when we will shop and where and should we go to Whole Foods, etc. And, if it's a holiday, it takes weeks of conversations to get to that one meal. She is 73 and still is "creating" and "developing" new dishes. It's a great life. You will do that with your daughter.

At 9:14 PM, Blogger Rob James said...

Just a hint for Chef... not all of the readers are female. Some of us are men who love to cook, and like me are celiac.

Definitely love the perspective that a professional brings to your articles. I mean home cooking is great but the legitimacy from a paid cook...... it can't be overlooked.

Can't wait for the book! I hope you're considering a signing tour... and please come to Canada!

At 9:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

first - buy lamb from neighbor girl who raised them with love for 4-H

second - marinate slices of leg or chops in lemon juice, soy sauce, thyme, garlic and just a little fish sauce

third - broil

fourth - share

At 9:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly, being someone who can mess up even good recipes, I think they should all be written as you did, Chef! :] Less scary and brings a more real sense of the experience into it. After all, as my mother would say, as she was baking many wonderful things, "...the secret is in the feel of the food..." and, yes, I agree, Shauna, in the story of it all. Without these components, good recipes can be messed up.

You are both a great inspiration in so many ways. I have your first book coming to me in a couple days and can't wait for your new one. Keep the warmth of your "stories" all forms! Live and love life!


At 9:51 PM, Blogger sweetpea said...

Cooking lamb is a total act of love for me. I simply can't stand the taste but it is by far and away my partners favorite! I frequently grill lamb chops for her or braise shanks, the ultimate as far as she is concerned. On a whole different note, we just returned from Budapest and took a great tour of several markets, including the famous Central Market Hall. Stall after stall of butchers were showing their meat, cuts I had never seen but have read about. Oh, to have access to such great meat! I think pork must be the national meat in Budapest. It was red and succulent and I had it every night. No problem with ordering GF, I carried a card explaining my diet translated in to Hungarian. They seem to have a much better understanding of GF in Europe, I never once got a strange look, but always a nod and a "sure, no problem, we can do that!" It was easy!

At 10:15 PM, Blogger Pearl said...

my mom makes delicious lamb

At 11:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sounds absolutely delicious! We love lamb in our family, but we have never tried shanks. I will now! We normally have leg of lamb, and I have a huge American roasting pan for it :D

If you ever go to Iceland you should try the lamb. I have never tasted lamb meat like in Iceland! The breed is very old and the pasture give the meat a certain flavour (in my opinion). Oh.. and while at Iceland.. try the fish as well ;)

Thank you for this site!

At 2:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love leg of lamb slow roasted with garlic, rosemary, sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Yum.

At 3:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yumm! I love lamb!

At 5:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ya know, Shauna, I did enjoy the Chef's simple narrative. But I also really enjoy the way your recipes wind around with stories and playful imagery. You posed the question What If you wrote like he does. Well, I would miss your voice. (Duh, it's why I keep coming back here to see what you're up to these days)! But I do enjoy his voice TOO (which is why I'll buy the book).


At 5:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was so surprised and tickled to see you back to blogging. I've missed your writing terribly while you've been busy with living life. And to the Chef: Thank you for this lovely lesson.
Take care,

At 6:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

beautifully said...

At 6:39 AM, Blogger jbeach said...

Sweet post. I just worked on a cookbook that's somewhat similar in fashion to the loose instructions's Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough's Cooking Know-How -- teaching you techniques rather than straight recipes. It's quite different from other cookbooks and very encouraging for creative cooks, in my opinion.

I love the notion of stories behind recipes - it's a huge part of the reason why I adore food and cooking!

At 6:57 AM, Blogger Milhan said...

Lamb is heaven....any way you slice it.

At 7:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


This isn't meant really as a criticism. I love your blog, I love your writing and photography, your stories and recipes. And I realize you eat differently than I do, as I haven't eaten meat since 1995.

My comment is maybe more along the lines of a future request. For me, seeing uncooked meat is very unappealing and actually kind of turns my stomach. When I opened up your blog and there was this photo of a big hunk of uncooked meat, and then I find out that it is lamb, which makes the image even worse for me, I actually felt a bit ill. Again, I would certainly never want to tell someone else what to do with their own blog, but maybe on stories about meat, the photo could further in the post, so people like me could get a sense of what the story/recipe is about, and either prepare ourselves for the meat image, or know to skip that story? It was just a jarring image for me to see this morning.

Thank you for all your efforts in sharing snippets of life and the wonderful food that makes up a big part of it.

At 7:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I finally, finally learned how to cook by taste and smell instead of by recipe. It was nice to see it all written out. Thanks!

At 7:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story - and it shows how stress-free and enjoyable cooking can be.

My favorite ways with lamb are generally curries, as I cook Indian food very often. For lamb I like to cook Kashmiri Rogan Ghosh, Bengali lamb with pickling spices, or a ground lamb keema. But on the other end of the spectrum, I do also make plain simple roast leg of lamb with rosemary and garlic. Mmmmmmm.....

At 8:16 AM, Blogger Allison the Meep said...

Whoa!! Those were great instructions on how to cook lamb. I get really antsy and intimidated by foods I've never done before, because I don't want to mess it up after spending time and money. I love how the Chef gently guided me as a reader through the process.

Keep up the good work! Your writing is making me a better cook! (Now I have The Beatles in my head and I'm singing "It's getting better all the tiiime...")

At 8:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's a gorgeous looking piece of meat. the chef's lamb shank recipe sounds more or less like the way i would make it. yum.

At 9:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lamb needs to be massaged and bathed in good olive oil, lots of lemon juice, tons of garlic and some thyme and/or rosemary overnight then grilled to pink perfection! I have been cooking lamb like this for 20 years and people who won't eat lamb love it.

At 9:29 AM, Blogger Cher said...

Bless you, Danny. I just bought a lamb shank the other day and had *no* idea what to do with it. I'm so doing this.

One of the things I always tell people when I mention GFG (and I do talk about it a fair bit) is that the site's not about gluten-free food: it's about good food, done well, made with love and respect.

Thanks to both of you for sharing.

At 10:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw the spring lambs (so far three, but more will be born soon) in the field on the island yesterday. Their little wooly wobbly selves were glowing in the late afternoon sun. I do love to eat lamb... Volterra does a braised lamb shank over polenta that is comfort food par excellence... But... it's hard to imagine putting those little guys on a plate.

However the recipe sounds amazing. The only problem is that I can't see the photos since I'm not on Facebook. Can you post them on your Flicker site?

At 10:45 AM, Blogger Anna said...

Food is an artform. It's like my daughter told me a while back when I asked her how she thought up the scuplture she made. "I just play with the clay and it turns into what it wants."(it was a seal) The wisdom of a child amazes me. I do that a lot with food. I look at what I have on hand, what I am in the mood for (flavors, mouth feel, substance, and all the variations) and I use what I have to get that experience.
With Lamb I enjoy a Morrocan Rub and then grill in the summer with a crisp fresh green salad with fennel, and I also enjoy leg of lamb, all visible fat trimmed off, salt, pepper and broil till golden brown all around, and then braise with home made stock onion and carrot, and in the third hour smear with home made mole, finish braising till meat falls off bone, and serve with cuban black beans, mexican rice, marinated cucumbers, and salad with cojita cheese and a creamy cilantro dressing. Yummy.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Jennifer Jo said...

The Chef's voice is a pleasure to listen to.


Ps. The recipe reminds me, just a wee bit, of peposo---beef shanks, garlic, red wine, salt, and lots of black pepper---though there is none of the searing and reducing which is maybe why I like peposo so much.

At 11:45 AM, Blogger Bonnie said...

I am sooo making lamb shanks soon! I always do a leg, but you've convinced me to try the shanks. I feel happy just thinking about it. I felt happy just reading the Chef's words as he described it.

"recipes are stories": I couldn't agree more. I so rarely follow a recipe exactly. I'm always adding, subtracting, or substituting. It makes it mine.
I live in Vancouver and on the Canadian food network, there is a chef named Michael Smith who does a few shows. When I look up his recipes on the website, they always begin with the same words:

"A recipe is merely words on paper; a guideline, a starting point from which to improvise. It cannot pretend to replace the practiced hand and telling glance of a watchful cook. For that reason feel free to stir your own ideas into this dish. When you cook it once, it becomes yours, so personalize it a bit. Add more of an ingredient you like or less of something you don't like. Try substituting one ingredient for another. Remember words have no flavour, you have to add your own!"

Thought you might like that quote.


At 1:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow -- here's another story about lamb shanks. I actually had the Chef's lamb shanks a little over two years ago when, still reeling from the diagnosis and recovery stage of celiac the breakup of a long relationship and the budgetary demise of my plans to finish a Ph.D. in English, I went to visit my brother in Seattle for the holidays. I was still terrified to eat out and still very weak and grieving all sorts of things. I was barely able to enjoy ANYTHING, let alone food, which had become really complicated for me (my ex had also been a chef for a while and our relationship had revolved around cooking -- losing him -- which was a good thing in the long run -- caused me to be unable to cook for myself in the short run because every damn thing in the kitchen would make me burst into tears). However, I'd found your blog and was touched by the story -- and hopeful that someday I might find someone who would want to cook for and with someone with celiac -- and I went to Impromptu for dinner knowing that it was one place where I could trust that I would get a good meal. It was an amazing meal, and I had lamb shanks cooked, I think, as you describe in this post. They were incredible and I started to feel a little bit of hope and a little bit taken care of for the first time. Thank you.

At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had the chef's lamb at Impromptu during our vacation to Seattle. Mmmmmmm.

Not that you asked, but I vote that you and Daniel open a gluten-free, top-8-free restaurant in Seattle so that those of us who have major intolerances and/or allergies have a food mecca. ;)

At 4:36 PM, Blogger kfrankly said...

I want to try out a few of your recipes, but I have noticed that they are different here than in your book...yes I read your 1st book and could hardly put it down. Which verision of the recipes do you recommend?

At 6:13 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

I've read your blog for the past year, and today's post moved me to comment. I could feel The Chef's love for the food. His love for the process. Of course, it helps that I love lamb.

Thank you for posting this - I plan to attempt it soon.

At 8:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't really appreciate lamb until I moved to Australia. Lamb is very popular here, and very good. I like to braise diced pieces of lamb leg in red wine, cumin and other spices, then serve it over cous cous. What a treat on a cool night in Sydney!

At 8:25 PM, Blogger gfe--gluten free easily said...

I love getting recipes the way the Chef shared this one. And, I love your method, too. I agree that you can't properly share a good recipe without the story. That's how I do it ... just can't help myself. :-)


At 3:31 AM, Blogger Amy said...

What a fun recipe and so very personable if that is possible. I love the combination of terms like "plop" and "slide" along with more technical terms like "mirepoix"and "carmerlizing the vegetables". I cannot say that I have a great way to cook lamb but the next chance I get I will try this one out

At 5:36 AM, Blogger Twisted Cinderella said...

That was definitely a well written recipe. I love cooking. My method of cooking is relaxed and my meals tend to evolve as I cook. I often start with one ingredient and a vague idea of what I am aiming to get.

At 7:22 AM, Blogger Maryann said...

Just wanted to let you know that I gave you the Love Ya award on my blog because I think you have just beautiful food. And thank you so much for including a lot of casein free foods or at least ones we can easily make casein free too. My son is autistic and we are battling it every day. Thanks for making it a little easier and a lot more enjoyable.

At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sigh. Is it any surprise that every time I see an update on this site, my spirits bounce a little? Your site is such a gem, Shauna and Chef. I also have your book from the library, Shauna, and can't wait to read it!

At 4:51 PM, Blogger Jenn Sutherland said...

Your gorgeous photo inspired me to come home and cook a lamb & root veggie stew's cold and wet in Chicago, and a hearty bowl of stew will hit the spot. I like my stew with lots of veggies - parsnips, potato, carrot, turnips, with garlic, onion red wine, chicken stock, rosemary, a can of tomatoes and lots of pepper to season. Simmer for 2 hours and enjoy! Thanks for the inspiration!


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