My dad was coming to town. In 24 hours he would arrive with my mother and a car filled with enough paper towels, Dove soap, and toothpaste to last me for 3 years. Sometimes I think they forget I have less storage space than The Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe. But, I digress…
Somewhere over the last five years I started doing something that my parents have done for years: I started sending them home with food. I don’t know that there’s anything more gratifying than packing a to-go container for my folks, giving them an earnest hug and telling them to drive safe. Maybe, in part, because I know when I tell them this they actually will. Slightly different when the roles were reversed, I assure you.
I knew I wanted to send them home with something that would be an extension of that hug, and because my dad is a guy’s guy through and through, roasted beets and tuna tartare would not do. It was a time for something substantial and comforting with rich aromatics and plenty of earthy spice. It was a time for well-marbled meat and a savory sauce. It was a time for Braised Lamb.
A word about braises: Any recipe that directs you to start the meat in the oven, covered by it’s braising liquid needs to be amended. Skipping the opportunity to sear the meat and caramelize the crust is a mistake. Stews, soups and braises are about building flavors. Take every opportunity to make the most of your ingredients and the finished dish will sing with flavor. I chose to use cinnamon for an earthy sweetness, tomatoes and red wine for their brightness and acidity and capers for their cheerful saltiness. I also chose to serve this over chewy barley, as the contrast of textures really works here. Feel free to use another grain, polenta or even mashed potatoes to serve as a pillow for this sumptuous sauce.
I sent my dad home with a container of braised lamb, cooked in dedication with my very warmest wishes. They left me with enough toiletries to prepare me for the future equivalent of a Y2K. It’s truly a give and take, full-grown relationship threaded with mutual appreciation, immense respect and an incredible amount of love. Even in my cabinet-challenged apartment, I can always find room for that.
SLOW ROASTED LAMB SHOULDER WITH CINNAMON, TOMATOES AND SMASHED CAPERS
(5 pounds) bone-in shoulder of lamb (depending on the size of the animal, this may amount to one large shoulder, or 1 1/2 small shoulders)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup dry red wine
2-inch piece cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs rosemary
¼ cup capers, drained, rinsed and finely chopped
Cooked barley, for serving
Remove meat from the refrigerator 30 minutes before ready to cook.
Preheat the oven to 425° F. Season the lamb shoulder generously with the salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil and sear the lamb, turning, until it is well browned all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer the lamb to a plate.
Add the leeks and garlic to the Dutch oven and brown, stirring, for 5 minutes.
Return the lamb to the Dutch oven and add the tomatoes, wine, capers, balsamic, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, and rosemary. Cover the Dutch oven and place it in the oven. Cook it for 1/2 hour.
Lower the heat to 275 degrees and cook for another 2 ½ hours, turning the lamb twice during cooking.
Remove lamb from pot and shred slightly into large but manageable pieces. Serve over barley.
*My Two Cents: I love the texture of barley with this braise, but polenta, farro or mashed potatoes would all be a fitting pillow to soak up this delicious sauce.
If you can’t find bone-in lamb shoulder, swap in boneless lamb shoulder or even pork shoulder. Any meat that is well marbled and suited for braising would work well with this method. As the meat slowly cooks the fat and gelatin break down and make it meltingly tender.
This is an ideal dinner for entertaining as it is even better the next day. This is also why I recommend cooking a large piece of meat so you can enjoy exponentially delicious leftovers all week long.