Fancy-pants rice and beans

It’s not so unusual to see a few teenaged lifeguards horsing around, but on Saturday I was a little surprised to see two sushi counter employees playing bumper cars with their shopping carts full of raw fish at a grocery store. There was the usual squealing and giggling from the girl, and I watched the guy perform some sort of flying hop over a produce employee’s potato crate. Nice.

Anyway. It was my fault for going to a grocery store at 4 p.m. the day before the SuperBowl. What’s worse, I chose that fateful hour for my maiden voyage into QFC, one of Seattle’s “regular” grocery stores. What was I thinking? I’m sure Whole Foods, which caters to a less NFL-centric clientele, to say the least, wasn’t as bad. It was bedlam. I cowered with my cart in the foreign foods aisle, making individual forays into other sections (gasp! the drinks aisle!) and returning to my rabbit hole, where I felt safe from the munchie makers.

On one such adventure, I passed the meat counter, and was surprised to see lamb shanks at something like $3.50 per pound. Lamb is sacred to me – not because I value it in a relgious way, but because it tends to cost so darn much (I tend to buy the organic stuff) that I only buy it when we’re celebrating, or when someone else is buying. (I’m sneaky like that.)

I’d never made lamb shanks – well, I’d made lamb osso bucco, but I’d never braised whole shanks. And since my dinner at Cremant, shanks have sort of haunted me, becuase I know I’ll never make them as meltingly tender as they did.

But as I looked at the price tag, it occurred to me that I could take home a couple lamb shanks for less than the price of chicken breasts, which somehow emancipated me from the fear of not braising them perfectly. I could experiment!

But oh, how the PETA and anti-lamb people screech when I say I’m “just experimenting” with a baby animal, undoubtedly cute enough in its short, probably not-so-sweet life to induce a forehead wrinkle and a sigh. I’m no fan of animal abuse, but be real, I say. We kill cute things for our meals every day. If lamb seems less humane to eat than, say, bacon, fine, don’t eat it.

So anyway, the goal: a lamb braise requiring really minimal fuss. The process: brown lamb, saute onions, pour in salsa, cook for 1 1/2 hours. The result: spicy tender lamb, ideal for tacos, burritos, enchiladas, etc. I used mine for to top fancy rice and beans, with avocado, chopped bell pepper, sour cream, etc.

I braised the lamb in the morning and put it in the fridge to cool for the day. Before dinner, I scraped off the accumulated fat layer, reheated the meat, and then took it off the bone. YUM.

Not my best photo ever:

Salsa-Braised Lamb Shank

Recipe for Salsa-Braised Lamb Shanks
Recipe 37 of 365

Lamb isn’t usually a hot contender when it comes to taco fillings, but the tender, spicy shredded meat that comes off these shanks all but bleats “burrito!” Serve the braised meat on the bone as is on a bed of rice, with the sauce on top, or make shredded lamb enchiladas (the sauce is made!), tacos, or dressed-up rice and beans. You could also take the meat off the bones and shred it, and return it to the sauce with black beans, corn, tomatoes, and cooked rice, for a spicy lamb soup that would be great with sour cream and avocado.

Use a salsa that matches your taste for spice; I used the red “salsa autentica” from Trader Joe’s.

Note: If you’d like to serve the meat on the bone, ask your butcher to cut the shanks in half for you (so you have four pieces).

TIME: 20 minutes active time, plus cooking
MAKES: 4 servings

1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 lamb shanks (about 1 1/2 pounds each)
2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 (12-ounce) jars salsa

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the flour, salt, and pepper in a zip-top plastic bag and shake to combine. Add the lamb, seal the bag, and shake to coat all the pieces evenly.

Heat a large ovenproof pot with a lid, such as a Dutch oven, over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, then add the floured lamb pieces. (Discard the remaining flour.) Sear the lamb pieces on all sides, about 15 minutes total, until all the surfaces are a deep golden brown. (You may have to regulate the heat to prevent the flour from burning.)

Transfer the browned lamb to a plate, add the onion, and cook the onion for a few minutes, stirring often, until soft. Place the lamb pieces on top of the onions, pour the salsa over the lamb, and cook the lamb for 1 1/2 hours, turning the lamb pieces once every 30 minutes.

Let the lamb cool in its liquid for about 20 minutes before serving, in whole pieces or shredded.

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Filed under Lamb, mexican, recipe

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