Le Creuset. It’s the Cadillac of cookware. The Caravaggio of crockery. It’s done for casseroles what Gibson guitars did for rock and roll. And I got one. I got one! The stars aligned in the form of my sudden obsessive interest in dutch ovens, a blowout sale and a very generous gift card. When I brought it home, I looked upon it with awe and wonder, cuddled it briefly and allowed it to settle in and get comfortable.
And then the cooking began.
My first dish made with the Le Creuset was also my first recipe from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now. Her original recipe called for Ox Tails, but she said that lamb shanks substituted just fine. And man, did they. I’m not sure if the delicious sorcery lay in this recipe or in the enameled cast iron pot. It’s probably both. The only seasoning used was salt, pepper and a handful of fresh herbs, so nothing masked the flavor of the meat or the vegetables. And when I pulled it out of the oven, the meat was falling off the bones and the sauce was rich, wholesome and earthy. No burnt bits at the bottom, no uneven cooking. Just like magic!
You will need:
- 1 750 ml bottle dry red wine
- ½ cup ruby port
- 4 lamb shanks (roughly 4 lbs)
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 5 shallots, finely chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 medium leeks, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 1 bunch parsley
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- balsamic vinega
Preheat the oven to 325° F. Bring the wine and port to a boil in a large saucepan, then reduce the heat and let simmer for about 20 minutes until the liquid has reduced to half.
While that’s happening, season the meat with salt and pepper. Melt the olive oil and 1 tbsp butter in a large dutch oven and brown the meat on all sides, working in batches. When done, set the meat aside. Melissa Clark made it a point to caution the reader not to crowd the pot, as this creates steam and the meat won’t brown properly. (Thank you, Melissa! I would have thrown all the meat in there in hasty excitement.)
This next step was my favorite. Melt the remaining butter in the dutch oven and add the shallots, garlic, leeks and celery. Cook until the vegetables have softened (about 5 minutes), stirring constantly while scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot.
I can tell you exactly why this part was immensely satisfying. All that fat, all that flavor is being incorporated into the vegetables. And nothing stuck to the pot. What is that even? How is that possible? Nothing stuck. Everything slid off and was absorbed into a vegetable array of richness. I just couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening. I felt like Milton in that The Simpsons episode where he met his Doppelgänger and asked, “Is this what it sounds like when doves cry?”
Once that's happened, place the meat on top of the vegetables, add the reduced wine and place a tied bundle of thyme, rosemary, parsley and bay leaves on top.
Bring the liquid to a boil, cover and place in the oven. Cook until tender, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours, turning the shanks every half hour. (To quote my friend Ram, "Slow and low, baby. Slow and low." Then add the carrots and cook for another half hour until the meat is falling off the bones.
Drizzle balsamic vinegar on top and serve with rice, mashed potatoes or thick bread to sop up the sauce. The sauce is a bit fatty, but you can spoon the fat off the top before serving if it’s not your thing. You can also refrigerate this and scoop the hardened fat off the top before reheating.
This turned out so well, I’m tempted to look up every recipe in Cook This Now that requires the use of a dutch oven. Why pace myself?