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February 16, 2014

Food Thread: Knives and Mandolins and other dangerous implements of culinary destruction (CBD)

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Amateur cooks are probably as fanatical about the tools of their hobby as gear heads and shooters, but with far less reason. It is eminently possible to cook magnificent food in a bare-bones kitchen, and certainly the clean up is easier without a few dozen dirty pots, pans, knives, food processors and assorted gadgets piled high in the sink and on every flat surface.



The French Chef


There are tools that are invaluable, and first on that list is a good knife. But don't rush out and buy a $200 beauty that all the cool, pierced and tattooed chefs use....

The most important features of a knife is that it can hold an edge for several minutes of cutting, and that it feels comfortable in your hand. The most expensive, well made and beautiful knife in the world will rust away in your knife rack if you don't like using it.

I use a short chef's knife for about 90% of my cutting, a boning knife for fine work with meat, and a sharp serrated blade for tomatoes and a few other special tasks like cutting lemon peel for drinks. I have a large serrated blade for bread, and I have discovered that it works perfectly for carving big chunks of meat, especially whole chickens and the one turkey each year that I am forced by convention to make.

A big, heavy-bottomed pot is damned useful, mostly because it can be used for so many different things. Who says that you have to sauté in a short-sided pan?

But why heavy-bottomed (not the Beyoncé kind....)? Because the heat is distributed evenly in a well made pot, so there are no cool spots and hot spots to screw up the meal that will finally convince the hottie from the gym that you are not quite as psychotic as you sounded when you invited her to dinner.

Slightly below the pot on Dildo's Hierarchy of Needs is a good non-stick sauté pan. They can be pricey, but if I were just starting out I would buy a small, good quality pan rather than a larger crappy-surfaced pan that will start peeling in a matter of a few weeks.

There are hundreds of other things that a well-stocked kitchen has, but for a utilitarian cook, there isn't much else that is essential.

Well, if you don't mind losing fingers, a mandolin would be a neat thing to have....

Oh, and if you want to make the recipe below, you will have to buy an oven-proof, heavy pot with a good lid. Le Creuset is a great brand, especially if your kids are brats and you want to repurpose their college funds.


Braised Lamb Shanks

6-10 lamb shanks (one per person, plus some for leftovers)
2 ounces duck fat
½ cup chopped prosciutto
2 cups chopped sweet onion
2 cups peeled carrot
2 cups chopped celery
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 quart chicken stock (homemade is best)
1-2 cups white wine
1 cup port
Fresh thyme
Fresh rosemary
Fresh sage
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F

In a large, heavy pot with a tight fitting lid, melt the duck fat over medium heat until it is liquid, and the pot is thoroughly heated, about 10 minutes. This is important because you don’t want the pot to cool off too much when you begin to sear the lamb shanks.

Salt the shanks just before you start searing them. If you salt them too early, they will begin to exude some moisture and juices, and we wouldn’t want that!.

Turn up the heat to high, and when the fat just begins to smoke (ideally, just before it begins to smoke, but if you can figure out when that is, please tell me), put half of the shanks in the pot, being careful not to crowd them.

Brown on all sides, adjusting the heat so that the fat does not burn. This may take a while, but it is worth the effort, the browning adds great flavor to the meat and the sauce. Remove the shanks to a bowl and sear the rest. Remove the second batch to the same bowl (duh).

Decrease the heat to medium and add the prosciutto, carrots, celery, onions and garlic, and toss in a pinch of salt for good measure.

Scrape all of the delectable little browned bits from the bottom and sides of the pot as you sweat the vegetables (yes, I know it is called a mirepoix).

When the vegetables have softened and become a bit translucent (about ten minutes or so), increase the heat to high and add the white wine.

After a few minutes add the port, and when that mixture is bubbling, add about half of the stock. Wait until that returns to a gentle boil and return the lamb shanks to the pot, arranging them so that they all fit in a single layer.

They aren’t uniformly shaped so it is possible to get an amazing number of them into a small pot. I can fit 10 shanks into a 9 ½ quart oval French Oven. The liquid should be at least two-thirds of the way up the shanks. If you need more liquid just add some more stock.

Toss in the herbs (that you have tied into a neat little bundle with some butcher’s twine) and make sure that they are submerged.

Cover the pot, stick it in the oven, and walk away for 2 ½-3 hours.

When you return you will discover a pot full of lamb shanks that are almost literally falling off the bone. Turn off the oven, gently remove the shanks from the pot and place in an oven-proof container. Cover them with foil and return to the oven.

Put the pot on the stove on medium-high heat, fish out the bundle of herbs, and reduce until the sauce has thickened slightly. At this point I usually use a hand blender and purée the sauce. It thickens amazingly, and looks great. But you can leave it chunky for a more rustic look. Just reduce it a bit more.

I think that some great, buttery mashed potatoes is about the best thing to serve with this dish. They soak up the sauce and taste great on their own, so the combination can’t be beat.

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posted by Open Blogger at 03:10 PM

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