Each week this summer, Cara Nicoletti of The Meat Hook is helping us get to know our favorite cuts a little bit better – and introducing you to a few new ones, too. Read on, study up, then hightail it to your nearest butcher.
Today: If you want to cook lamb without breaking the bank, pick up a few shanks -- then braise them with balsamic vinegar and wine.
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We all know that Americans love beef -- we eat roughly 54 pounds per person per year here, a staggering number when you compare it to the amount of lamb we eat every year, which clocks in at 1/2 pound. That’s just one large serving! One of the reasons, it seems, that people tend to buy beef over lamb is the pricing. If you’ve bought lamb at the market recently -- especially grass-fed, pastured, local lamb (please buy this!) -- it’s no secret that it is PRICEY.
The great thing about fall and winter, though, is that we can keep our ovens on for hours at a time without turning the house into a sweltering nightmare. This means that we can go for the inexpensive cuts at the butcher shop, the ones that need a little extra time and a little extra love, rather than reaching for the pricey and quick grillables.
Lamb shanks are a beautiful option for the fall and winter if you’re in the mood for lamb but don’t want to break the bank. There are four shanks per animal: two foreshanks and two hindshanks, the lower portions of the animal’s front and back legs, respectively. The hindshanks are generally prized over the foreshank because they are slightly meatier, but in my opinion they are both equally delicious. Today, we're working with hind shanks.
Because they are some of the hardest-working muscles on the animal’s body, lamb shanks need to cook for a good while over low heat in order for all the tough muscle and collagen to break down. Braising is the best route because shank meat is lean, and liquid helps to keep the meat from drying out during that long, slow cook.
Shanks can be braised whole or cut into disks, osso buco-style. As an additional bonus, the meat on the shank surrounds a marrow bone, which adds gorgeous flavor and body to your braising liquid while your meat cooks. This is my favorite way to braise shanks -- there’s warm spice and fresh herbs for comfort, good syrupy balsamic vinegar for depth, and white wine and orange zest for brightness.
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste 1/4 teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon coriander, toasted and ground 1 teaspoon cumin, toasted and ground 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon 2 lamb shanks 2 tablespoons olive oil 4 cloves garlic 1 large yellow onion, diced 3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks 4 celery ribs, cut into chunks 2 sprigs rosemary, de-stemmed and finely chopped 2 sprigs thyme, de-stemmed and finely chopped Zest of 1/2 a large orange 1/2 cup good balsamic vinegar 1 cup white wine 4 cups chicken stock
Cara Nicoletti is a butcher and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Cara started working in restaurants when she moved to New York in 2004, and was a baker and pastry chef for several years before following in her grandfather and great-grandfathers' footsteps and becoming a butcher. She is the writer behind the literary recipe blog, Yummy-Books.com, and author of Voracious, which will be published by Little, Brown in 2015. She is currently a whole-animal butcher and sausage-making teacher at The Meat Hook in Williamsburg.