At the first sign of cold weather, most men instinctively crave large slabs of meat. Not sure why. Maybe the caveman in all of us, or the need to store up protein for a long winter hibernation. Or maybe I’m just overthinking this. Yes, come to think about it, I crave it year round.
Lamb is not necessarily associated with Cajun country, and as long as I’ve been around the culinary culture I’ve yet to dive into a bowl of lamb gumbo. But, by the look of the meat cases at the local supermarkets and butcher shops, lamb is a favorite of lots of families along the bayou. I’ve written about lamb before in a hearty lamb soup paired with speckled butter beans from a few years back, but there is one cut of lamb I am crazy about.
Meaty lamb shanks appeal to the carnivore in me, and in Cajun country, we fire up the smoker for just about any cut of meat, lamb shanks included. I like the subtlety of pecan wood. When gently smoked while enrobed in bacon fat, lamb shanks take on an added depth of succulent flavor. A wine-infused risotto using the firmer-textured Carnaroli rice and featuring Louisiana sweet potato provides the perfect base for the lamb shanks in this hearty main dish.
- 4 lamb shanks (1 to 11/2 pounds each)
- 8 strips smoked bacon
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large yellow onions, coarsely chopped
- 2 cups chopped celery
- 2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
- 1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
- 4 stems fresh rosemary
- 4 cloves garlic, mashed
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 6 cups beef stock plus more if needed
- 1 can (10 ounces) mild diced tomatoes with green chiles, drained, such as Ro-Tel
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- ½ cup diced celery
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced into ¼-inch cubes
- 11/2 cups Carnaroli or arborio rice, or Supreme brand white jasmine rice
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 3 cups chicken stock, plus more if needed
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Wrap each lamb shank with 2 strips of bacon and secure in place with toothpicks. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Place the shanks in a smoker using pecan wood (chips and chunks), and following the smoker directions, smoke for 1 hour at 250ºF. Transfer the smoked shanks to a platter.
- Heat the olive oil in a large cast-iron pot or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrots, and sauté until browned, about 10 minutes. Add the parsley, rosemary, garlic, and lemon zest, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Pour the wine into the pot and deglaze while scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon.
- Once the wine has cooked off much of its alcohol, about 8 minutes, stand the lamb shanks in the pot and add enough stock to come halfway up the side of the meat. Add the tomatoes with green chiles, tomato paste, and bay leaves. Stir to combine, and cover. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 2 hours, or until the lamb is fork-tender. Check every 30 minutes and add more stock if needed.
- Remove the lamb from the pot and place on a platter to keep warm.
- Turn the heat to high and boil the remaining liquid until it reduces to 2 cups. Strain off all of the vegetables and remove the bay leaves. Pour the sauce into a bowl for serving.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and celery, and sauté until the onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and rosemary, and stir to combine. Add the sweet potato and rice, and sauté until the rice is lightly toasted and you begin to smell a nutty aroma, about 5 minutes.
- Add the wine and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook slowly until the rice has absorbed the wine and the mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Add 1 cup of the stock and continue stirring as it cooks down, about 5 minutes. Once the stock is absorbed, add another ladle of stock, and continue stirring. Continue cooking, reducing, and adding stock until the rice cooks through and becomes silky and creamy, about 25 minutes total.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice and white pepper. Add the parsley, lemon zest, and cheese, stirring to combine. Add the butter and stir to combine. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
- For serving, mound the risotto on a serving platter and place the lamb shanks on top. Garnish with parsley and serve the sauce on the side.
Most cooks use arborio rice for risotto, but I prefer Carnaroli. The grains are a bit longer, and while the result is a creamy texture, they tend to keep their shape better during cooking. And a local Louisiana favorite that I use often--white jasmine rice from Supreme--makes a tasty version of risotto as well. If you use the jasmine rice, do not rinse it before cooking since it is the release of starch that thickens the risotto.
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