McGee’s guidelines for succulent braises and stews:
A moist, tender braise or stew results from the cook’s cumulative attention to several details of procedure. The most important rule: never let the meat interior get anywhere near the boil.
Keep the meat as intact as possible to minimize cut surfaces through which fluids can escape.
If the meat must be cut, cut it into relatively large pieces, at lease an inch on each side.
Brown the meat very quickly in a hot pan so that the inside of the meat warms only slightly. This kills any microbes on the meat surfaces, and creates flavor.
Start the pot with meat and cooking liquid in a cold oven, the pot lid ajar to allow some evaporation, and set the thermostat to 200 degrees, so that it heats the stew/braise to around 120 degrees slowly, over two hours.
Raise the oven temperature to 250 degrees so that the stew/braise slowly warms to 180 degrees.
After an hour, check the meat every half hour, and stop the cooking when it is easily penetrated by the tines of a fork. Let the meat cool in the [pot], where it will reabsorb some liquid.
The liquid will probably need to be reduced by boiling to improve flavor and consistency. Remove the meat [and any vegetables that will be served with it] first.
- 4 meaty lamb shanks
- kosher or sea salt
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2-4 T. extra virgin olive oil
- 12 cloves garlic, cut in half
- 2 fennel bulbs
- 4 large oranges, peel removed with a vegetable peeler, flesh reserved for another use
- 2 tsp. lightly crushed fennel seeds
- 1/4 c. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 c. dry vermouth or white wine
- 2-4 c. stock - lamb, chicken, beef or vegetable
Tie the shanks with kitchen twine to keep the meat from separating from the bone. Sprinkle the lamb shanks generously with salt and freshly ground pepper, and let stand about 2 hours to bring to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
Strip the fronds from the stalks of the fennel bulbs, mince the fronds and reserve a cup or so for garnish. Cut off and discard the stalks from the bulbs. Cut the bulbs in half, remove the core, and slice the bulb into half-inch slices. Mix with the orange peels, garlic and fennel seeds and set aside.
In a heavy pan large enough to hold the shanks in one layer, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the shanks and brown well on all sides. As they are browned, remove the shanks to a platter.
Pour excess fat from the pan and return to the heat.
Add the fennel, the garlic and the orange peel to the pan and stir to coat with the pan drippings. Add the fennel seeds, the Worcestershire, vermouth and 2 cups of the stock. Put the shanks back in the pan and add additional stock if necessary to bring the liquid halfway up the sides of the shanks.
When the liquid just begins to simmer, cover the pan tightly and place in the oven. Braise the shanks for 2 hours, then raise the heat to 250 degrees for an additional 4-6 hours, or until the meat is fork tender and falling off the bone. Begin checking after four hours.
Let the shanks come to room temperature in the broth. You can speed this process by putting the pan in a sink filled with cold water.
At this point the lamb shanks, in their liquid, can be refrigerated for serving in the next several days.
If serving the same day, remove the shanks to a platter. Remove the orange peels and discard. Let the broth stand for a few minutes and then remove as much fat as possible from the top. If the broth seems too thin, bring to a boil over high heat and reduce until it’s slightly thickened. Add the shanks and bring the liquid to a bare simmer, and cook until the shanks are completely heated through.
If serving the following day (or the next few days), remove the pot from the refrigerator and discard the solidified fat that has risen to the top. Discard the orange peels. Set the shanks aside, scraping off and discarding any fat and returning any jelled liquid to the pot. Heat the broth; if it seems a bit too thin, bring to a boil to reduce it and warm the shanks as above.
Check the broth for seasoning, adding salt and/or pepper as needed. Serve the shanks in deep plates with the broth and vegetables, sprinkled with the reserved fennel fronds. Serves 4.