Podarakia Arniou Me Kritharaki. That’s Greek to me. Heehee, literally. :) That’s what this dish is called in Michael Psilakis’ cookbook entitled “How to Roast a Lamb”. Essentially, it is braised slow-roasted lamb shanks with a tomato and wine sauce. It was superb. I made this a few nights ago for our annual “Anti-Valentine’s Valentine’s Dinner” with just a few guests over that evening. Sister is also in town so she ate this as well (while I suffered with prawns and a green salad). If you like lamb shanks, you will probably LOVE this recipe and it was so incredibly easy to make… I tried to follow the recipe rather closely, but because I had some other ingredients on hand, I improvised a little.
First, I started off with four nice meaty lamb shanks, PHP1,500 roughly at Santis delicatessen. I thought this would feed four people nicely, but in fact, it would probably feed six quite comfortably. Into a large cast iron pan over medium high heat, I added roughly 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil and just under a tablespoon of olive oil. I then browned the defrosted, and patted dry with paper towels shanks in the oil, turning to brown all sides of the meat.
I browned two shanks at a time, so as not to “crowd” the pan, then placed the browned shanks into a large enameled dutch oven or oven-proof casserole (this one happens to be a Le Creuset).
Drain all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the cast iron pan and return to the heat. Add a classic mirepoix combination of white onions, celery and carrots, roughly chopped. I used about 1.5 cups of each. I happened to have some nice organic fennel bulbs on hand and chopped those up and added them to the mix as well. Ditto for some 10 pieces of very young garlic bulbs. Saute all of these for a few minutes until the vegetables start to glisten and soften.
Next I added about 4 tablespoons of tomato paste to the pan and stirred for about a minute, before adding 2 cups of red wine to “deglaze” the pan. Stir to let the alcohol evaporate and you will have a nice thick, flavorful sauce. Actually, it is generally a bad idea to cook wine and tomatoes in a cast iron pot as acids and iron are not a good match, but I was a bit lazy and trying to save washing another saute pan. Just do this step quickly and it should be okay. Next, I added roughly 8 cups of beef broth to the mixture and stirred until it was just simmering.
I carefully dumped the vegetable and wine/broth mixture over the lamb shanks in the other pan, added more beef broth and some water until the shanks were just barely covered, and added in 4 fresh bay leaves (use 2 dried if you don’t have fresh) from the garden, 5 sprigs of fresh thyme, 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste. Don’t overdo the salt just yet, the liquid will boil down and get far more concentrated. Start with 1/2 tablespoon of kosher salt and adjust later.
Cover the pot and stick it into a pre-heated 325F oven for about 2.5 to 3.0 hours, or until the lamb is just falling off the bone…
Check your pot to make sure the liquid does not come to a boil, rather a gentle gurgle, less violent than the lava boiling over in a Hawaiian volcano, is all you need. The lower the gurgle, the more fantastic the lamb shanks. If you think the oven is too hot, lower the heat a bit. I promise you that the aromas that will invade your kitchen and home after about the first hour of cooking will be heavenly. This is comfort food at its best!
When it’s done, carefully remove the shanks onto a serving platter and scatter vegetables around it. Take the sauce and put it over a high flame for some 15+ minutes to reduce it to a thicker consistency. Meanwhile, stick the platter of meat in the oven with heat turned off, to keep it warm… While reducing the sauce, I added about two whole bulbs worth of garlic that were slow roasted to a sweet fragrant mush.
Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning if necessary. Scoop the sauce over the lamb shanks. Sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs — I used fresh fennel fronds, dill, Italian Parsley and mint. Drizzle with olive oil and you are good to go. This was excellent! Really soft lamb with lots of flavor, and a terrific sauce. Paired well with potatoes, but if you like, serve with orzo or pasta as suggested by the author. Finally, I figured it cost PHP2,100 to make, or roughly PHP380 per person served… an absolute bargain! We had lots of leftover lamb shanks that we shredded and kept with all the leftover sauce. They will go onto pasta in the days ahead. I had just one fork full of lamb and veggies and it was heavenly. I will make this again when I am not on a strict diet. :)