(Red curry lamb shanks served with sesame green beans and cinnamon raisin rice)
When one spends a few formative years cooking and eating only vegetarian food, the idea of cooking meat at first seems daunting. I don’t mean stir-frying chicken thights or grilling steak; that I can handle with relative ease, as it’s not that different from, say, stir-frying broccoli or grilling thick strips of eggplant.
What I tend to shy away from are those kinds of meat preparations that span long, (sometimes really long) periods of time–in part because I am intimidated but also, admittedly, because I am antsy and impatient and have a hard time wrapping my head around waiting until dinnertime to eat something that started cooking before lunch. Roasting, braising, stewing… They’ve never been my cup of tea.
Thing is, most of the time, these “all-day affair” kind of dishes just taste better. Much, much better, I think. Unlike me, my parents never shied away from long cooking times or Le Creuset. Thus, all my life (excluding those three vegetarian years), dinners of osso bucco, coq au vin, cassoulet, and beef brisket were commonplace.
My favorite of these dishes has always been braised lamb shank. Meat, to me, is rarely worth eating unless it’s falling off the bone, and letting a lamb shank braise for hours in tomato and wine and stock is just about the most surefire way of making this happen. It crossed my mind this summer, though, that maybe a lamb shank could taste even better braised in something else.
Now would be a good time to tell you that Thai curry is one of the few foods that both my parents and I unanimously agree is near perfection (my mom prefers green and my dad red, but that’s as far as the dissent goes). Another one of those foods is, you guessed it, lamb shanks. And so, the idea for red curry (sorry, Mom) lamb shanks was born.
Per my diminishing-but-ever-present fear of the braising process, it took months for the idea to come to fruition. But, last week, lamb shanks were spotted at Fairway just days before a few of our all-time favorite dinner guests were set to arrive in New York. The now or never mindset kicked in, and Project Red Curry Lamb Shanks was set into motion.
The morning of the dinner party, I made the red curry paste, browned the lamb shanks, made the sauce, and combined everything but the sweet potatoes and carrots in the Le Creuset, which I then left in the fridge for my mom to put in the 300 degree oven at 3 in the afternoon, while I was at work. At 5:30, she turned the oven down to 250 and threw in the vegetables. I got home at 6:45, skimmed at least 2 inches of fat (no exaggeration; lamb and coconut milk together is an awful lot of fat) off the top of the pot, and let the whole thing hang out in the oven some more, at 200 degrees, until we sat down to eat at 8.
Served with cinnamony rice and sesame green beans, the lamb shanks were good but not as red-curryish as we had hoped. Next time, I would consider using twice as much red curry paste, more stalks of lemon grass, and maybe I would even make an additional red curry sauce, separately, to ladle atop each lamb shank on the plate.
RED CURRY LAMB SHANKS WITH CARROTS AND SWEET POTATOES (serves 6)
For the red curry paste:
1 large shallot, chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, peeled and finely sliced
2 t cayenne pepper
3 t Sriracha chili sauce
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 T tomato paste
1 T ground cumin
1 T ground coriander
2 T soy sauce
1 T cinnamon
water, to cover blades of food processor
For the lamb shanks:
6 medium lamb shanks
Salt and pepper, to season
Canola oil, to sear
2 medium yellow onions, sliced
1 15 oz can coconut milk
2 15 oz cans light coconut milk
1 L beef stock
2 stalks lemongrass
3 medium sweet potatoes, cut into large chunks
1 lb baby carrots
1 large red pepper, for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
To make the red curry paste, combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until the mixture forms a fairly smooth paste. Add water gradually, and only enough to wet the blades and bring ingredients together.
To sear lamb shanks, tie two pieces of string around each shank (one at the top, one at the bottom), and season liberally with salt and pepper. Fill a large French oven (mine was a 7.5 liter Le Creuset) with canola oil, roughly a 1/2 inch deep, and sear lamb shanks for about 4 minutes on each side (do all 3 sides).
Remove lamb shanks from the French oven and set them aside in a metal bowl. Using the oil leftover from searing, sweat the onions and all of the red curry paste on medium heat for about 8 minutes over low heat. Transfer the lamb shanks back into the French oven, and pour in the coconut milk, light coconut milk, and beef stock, along with the two whole peeled stalks of lemongrass.
With the lid of the French oven on, braise the lamb shanks in the 300 degree oven for two hours. Then, remove the French oven, add in the carrots and sweet potatoes, and braise for another hour at 250 degrees.
Remove the lid from the French oven and skim the fat from the top of the curry (there will be a LOT; I took almost two inches off of the top). Serve immediately, being sure to cut the strings off of the shanks. Optional: garnish with minced red pepper.