Once in a while I feel the need to indulge in a big hunk of meat. When I prepare meat, I like to know that the animal has been raised sustainably and that I am supporting a small, local farm. This 5 1/2-pound shank end, bone-in leg of lamb came from Mint Creek Farm in Stelle, Illinois. Mint Creek sheep are 100% grass-fed on farm-raised alfalfa, clover, and perennial grasses, and are never placed in feed lots or given hormones. Their sheep, grazing on grasses in the great outdoors, are lean, fit, healthy, and delicious. Due to their grazing on indigenous grasses, the meat has a pleasant, but not overpowering, earthiness.
With such a great cut of meat, there is not much that needs to be done to prepare a superb dish. This lamb is prepared simply, slow-braised for about four hours, with lots of fresh rosemary, thyme, garlic (20 cloves), and red wine (an earthy French table wine). Wish I could bottle the fragrance that overtook my entire apartment as it was braising, intoxicating. The fresh herbs, garlic, and red wine come together to form a comforting and deeply satisfying sauce.
Typically, most recipes call for a 7-hour braised leg of lamb. However, seven hours is way too long. A recent New York Time's article explained that the 7-hour recipe was originally devised for animals that were older, larger, and tougher than today’s lamb. With modern meat, four to five hours is plenty. Also, due to the fact that the Mint Creek sheep are allowed to roam freely outdoors, they are leaner than factory farmed lamb and, thereby, require a shorter cooking time.
To prepare the lamb you will need:
1 5 1/2-pound shank end, bone-in leg of lamb
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 bottle red wine
20 garlic cloves
10 sprigs fresh rosemary
10 sprigs fresh thyme
5 bay leaves
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
|5 1/2-pound shank end, bone-in leg of lamb|
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Rub the lamb with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large pot or Dutch oven (used a 5 1/2 quart) over medium-high heat. Sear the lamb, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the lamb to a plate.
Add the wine and 2 cups of water to the Dutch oven. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the Dutch oven. Add the garlic and herbs, and then return the lamb to the Dutch oven, fatty side up. Cover and roast in the oven, basting frequently. Turn lamb over after 45 minutes and every 30 minutes thereafter, basting frequently until lamb is tender enough to cut with a serving spoon.
After four hours, perfection! Let the lamb rest for 10 to 15 minutes and dig in.
This photo is not from a local Illinois farm, but rather was taken as I was driving through the mountains in Crete, Greece. Not everyday you see sheep wandering in the middle of the road holding up traffic.