Sunday, September 16, 2007

Recipe of the week from The Diner's Club Cookbook: Kzartma (shank of baby lamb)

An Internet search revealed that the restaurant this recipe came from is Armenian, so I assume the recipe is too. The cookery of that region is full of delicious recipes for lamb and mutton.

To serve 6-8 persons:

6 lamb shanks
3/4 cup chopped onions (about 3/4 of a medium onion)
2 tbs butter
1 tbs salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon oregano
2 tbs paprika
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup + 2 tbs tomato sauce
1/2 cup beef broth
1/2 cup dry sherry

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Soak the shanks in cold water for 30 minutes. Drain, dry and remove excess fat. Arrange in a shallow casserole or deep skillet with oven-proof handle.

Sauté the onions in the butter and add to the lamb with the remaining ingredients*. Cover and bake at 175°C (350°F) for 90 minutes, basting occasionally. Remove cover and continue baking at 125°C (250°F) until lamb browns and is tender, about 45 minutes. Baste frequently. Serve with cracked wheat or rice.

*I mixed everything together in the pan and poured it over the shanks.

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Alterations and substitutions:
I used half the number of lamb shanks the recipe calls for, but made a full recipe of sauce. I don't know if the shanks in the recipe are meant to be back shanks or front shanks, which is rather inexact, as front shanks, at least the way that cut is sold here, have only half the meat on them that back shanks do. 6 back shanks would feed the stated 6-8 persons, but 6 front shanks would only feed four persons, so I guess it is back shanks the recipe requires (I used front shanks, BTW).

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I had no tomato sauce and was not sure if the phrase referred to ketchup or the milder stuff, so taking my cue from a couple of recipes I found on the Internet, I puréed some canned tomatoes to use instead.

I was out of sherry, so I used Marsala instead.

I used less salt than the recipe calls for, maybe about 1 tsp, counting what I put in the sauce and what was in the butter (I was out of sweet butter, and the neighbourhood supermarket didn't have any).

Instead of using a regular casserole dish, I used a Römertopf, a clay dish which is soaked in water for about 15 minutes and then put in a cold oven with the food and allowed to heat up with the oven. The food gets steamed inside the dish and comes out very tender and juicy. Of course, this was the first time I have used it and the first time I have made the dish, so I really have no way of knowing if that claim is true.

As apparently food cooked in a Römertopf browns faster than meat baked or braised in the regular way, I cooked the meat 20 minutes longer in the closed dish, and only gave it 20 minutes to brown, which turned out to be about right, as the sauce was in danger of burning had I browned it for longer.

Lamb shanks need long, slow cooking so they will not turn out tough, and wet cooking to keep them from drying out, so slow cooking them in sauce is ideal.

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These shanks were a little short of melting off the bone, but still tender and juicy. With a coating of sauce, they had a rich taste of paprika and tomatoes that reminded me of goulash.

The sauce was reduced by about 2/3 and turned out thick and slightly bitter. I didn't taste the bitterness so much when eating it with the meat, but when eaten alone or with rice, it was noticeable. The bitterness was probably due to the canned tomatoes and Marsala. I find that when reduced, Marsala will impart a slight bitterness to a sauce, and whenever I use canned tomatoes in a sauce, I usually also add a bit of sugar to counteract their slight bitterness, which I didn't do here.

This is definitely something I would make for company, but I think I might use water instead of sherry/marsala if I make it again, and fresh tomatoes instead of puréed tomatoes or tomato sauce.

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I think this recipe would be well suited to make a stew. I would still use shanks, as they are so flavourful, but I would cut them into bite-size pieces, sauté the onions and then the meat in the butter, add the remaining ingredients, and then either cook the stew in the saucepan on the stove or in a casserole dish in the oven. Then I would serve the stew either with cous cous, rice or flat bread, such as naan or chappatis.

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