Braised and Fried Lamb Shoulder

The darkest area of a blacked out city is one’s stairwell. And so when Sandy hit, I nearly broke my neck navigating my way down to the first floor. But we landed safely in a powered-up section of the ‘burbs for a 4-day encampment.

I rarely find myself in a super-sized grocery store. New York lacks the necessary real estate. But when a storm upends an enormous city, you find yourself in strange places. Like the meat dept. of a giant Stop & Shop.

Precisely portioned, wrapped, and useful, the meat could be dried beans, ketchup, or paper towels. From a naturalist’s viewpoint, it may be worth a field visit: where else is cow like a chicken and a chicken like a pig? It reminds me of my brief stint in a restaurant where the salad guy applied his dressings by color. The mega-mart should organize the meat similarly: red here, white there.

This is meat ready to assemble like a child’s toy: take home and inject with enough heat to make it safe and edible.

We’re lucky to have an honest to goodness butcher in the neighborhood. Not a Chelsea Market or Brooklyn hipster butcher sprung from the pages of the Times Dining section and food tv. Rather, Pino has been manning his sawdusty shop on Sullivan Street forever, in a postage-stamp sized corner of Soho not yet snatched up by clothing stores.

Most of the time, Pino hauls out half an animal from the fridge and lops off whatever I want or he suggests. (Usually, no pricier than superstore meat mind you.) As opposed to superstore meat, which parachutes from the sky, stuff from a good butcher is on a meandering journey, with pauses along the way to smell the coffee, the finish line being the kitchen table.

You unfold the butcher paper and consider the flesh. A high-quality burger or a slab of liver are headed for a hot, oiled pan, as would a homemade sausage or hangar steak. You may have picked up some pork belly or shoulder for braising or roasting. We decided the other day on two sections with which I rarely cook: lamb shoulder and lamb belly.

We braised, shredded, and fried the meat for a tasty lamb taco. I’d rather have an elevator than a butcher, but in case this all sounds snobbish, I’d rather have a butcher than a wine store.

Braised Lamb Shoulder

(serves 4-6)

2 bone-in lamb shoulders
olive oil
a few Spanish onions, peeled and cut in eighths
6 plum tomatoes, seeded, chopped
a few sliced chilies
5 sprigs rosemary
½ cup Madeira
½ cup port

1 cup fresh orange juice
2 cups chicken stock
1 head garlic, halved widthwise
salt and pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 375. Season lamb well, heat oil in a large sauté pan and brown the shoulders all over. Remove to a large roasting pan.
  2. Add onions to the pan and fry until lightly browned, then add tomatoes, chili and 3 of the rosemary sprigs. Stir and add alcohol. Bring to a boil, reduce a bit, pour over lamb. Pour orange juice and stock over the lamb. Cover loosely with parchment paper, transfer to oven and braise until the meat shrinks from the bone, about 1 ½ hours.
  3.  Remove lamb, let cool completely in pan, lift from pan and refrigerate an hour or more. Strain the liquid into a pot and reserve vegetables.
  4. Boil juices to a saucelike consistency, add the veg and keep warm. Remove lamb, slice shoulder in large pieces and fry in a large pan with olive oil, the halved garlic and remaining 2 rosemary sprigs until browned and crisp. Serve with the sauce.

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