Have a butcher cut each small lamb shank in two. That way guests aren't confronted with hunks of meat that look like cavemen's clubs. In this recipe, the mirepoix is made of leeks, celery and carrot, then enhanced with 10 whole cloves of garlic and coarsely chopped shiitake mushrooms. If you use dried shiitakes, be sure to reserve your soaking water and use it, strained, as some -- or all -- of your braising liquid.
Braised Lamb Shanks Makes 4 servings
4 small lamb shanks, each cut in half
1 1/2 cups chopped leek, white part only
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
10 cloves garlic
12 fresh or dried-and-reconstituted shiitake mushrooms
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/2 cup beef stock
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in heavy Dutch oven or enameled cast-iron pot with lid. Brown all sides of lamb shanks over medium-high heat, about 30 minutes. Remove shanks to plate.
If browning oil is scorched, discard and heat fresh oil in pan. Otherwise use remaining oil and saute leek, celery, carrot, garlic and mushrooms over medium-high heat until brown at tips. Add thyme and enough stock to loosen cooked-on particles and fill bottom of pan. Place lamb shanks on vegetables, cover tightly and bake at 300 degrees 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until meat is thoroughly tender.
Skim fat from cooking juices and vegetables. Add stock, if necessary, to loosen cooked-on bits. Serve shanks with pan juices and vegetables spooned over them.
Each serving: 273 calories; 245 mg sodium; 54 mg cholesterol; 11 g fat; 25 g carbohydrates; 21 g protein; 2.99 g fiber.
These oxtails will caramelize beautifully after about three hours the oven. Although one generally figures on 1 pound of meat-with-bones per person, oxtails are so rich that 4 pounds should serve six healthy appetites. Serve with boiled or mashed potatoes and a green salad.
Oxtails with Orange Makes 6 servings
2 cups fresh orange juice
20 whole cloves
5 whole allspice
2 teaspoons peppercorns
2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 pounds oxtails
4 medium-large onions, chopped
2 carrots, peeled, chopped
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 cup beef stock
Reduce orange juice to 1 cup over medium heat, stirring often. Set aside.
Grind cloves, allspice, peppercorns and salt. Rub oxtails with ground spices, using only as much as needed.
Heat olive oil in heavy Dutch oven or enameled cast-iron pan with lid. Brown oxtails thoroughly on all sides over medium-high heat, about 20 minutes. Set aside. Unless oil is scorched, use same oil, adding more if necessary, to fry onions, carrots and orange zest quickly until just brown at edges.
Add enough stock to fill pan scant 1/2 inch, about 1 cup. Loosen particles sticking to pan and bring to boil. Set oxtails on top of vegetables and simmering stock. Drizzle reduced orange juice over each oxtail. Cover and bake 2 1/2 to 3 hours at 300 de
grees, until meat on bones is tender and caramelized.
Remove oxtails to platter or individual plates. Skim fat off pan drippings. Serve oxtails with pan drippings spooned over them.
Each serving: 230 calories; 960 mg sodium; 35 mg cholesterol; 8 g fat; 17 g carbohydrates; 22 g protein; 0.66 g fiber.
In this easy soup, the sweetness of the onions and sweet potatoes is tempered by the bacon's smokiness.
Braised Sweet Potato Soup Makes 4 appetizer servings, or 2 main-course servings
5 slices lean smoked bacon (Canadian bacon or apple-wood smoked bacon), chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
olive oil, optional
1 (1-pound) sweet potato, cut into 1/2 -inch slices
freshly ground pepper
1 quart hot vegetable stock
roasted pumpkin seeds
In heavy Dutch oven or enameled cast-iron pot, heat bacon over medium-high heat until fat begins to render. Add chopped onion. If more fat is needed, add few drops of olive oil.
Cook onion and bacon together over medium-high heat until tips of onion are browned. Add sweet potato and stir, making sure sweet potato slices are coated with hot fat. Season to taste with pepper. Cover and cook at 350 degrees 40 minutes to 1 hour, until sweet potatoes fall apart at touch of fork.
.` Add 2 cups hot stock, stirring
with fork to loosen all browned particles sticking to pan, and smash sweet potato. Add another 2 cups of stock. Simmer few minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Garnish with pumpkin seeds.
Each serving: 277 calories; 1,134 mg sodium; 19 mg cholesterol; 17 g fat; 23 g carbohydrates; 5 g protein; 0.65 g fiber.
This dessert is a gentler braise than most -- the pears bake in butter for the first half of the cooking, then bake in cream for the second half -- but the characteristic deep flavors and melting textures still emerge.
Pears Braised in Cream Makes 4 servings
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar, packed
4 firm pears, peeled, cored and halved
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
Rub bottom of 6-by-9-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter. Sprinkle sugars evenly over bottom of dish. Place pears, cut-side down, in dish and dot with remaining butter.
Bake at 350 degrees 20 minutes. Pour cream into dish and tilt dish back and forth several times to mix with butter-sugar mixture. Bake another 15 minutes or until pears are tender when pierced with sharp knife. Serve warm.
Each serving: 312 calories; 62 mg sodium; 73 mg cholesterol; 22 g fat; 32 g carbohydrates; 2 g protein; 2.33 g fiber.