It’s now been over one year since I posted the first meat recipe to this blog. At the time I felt compelled to mark the occasion by giving a full account of my various dietary swings from meat-eater to vegetarian to vegan to junk-food junkie to meat-curious and finally to my current resister-of-labels-but-kind-of-intuitive-eater. It appears that I’m not done yet, as I can’t seem to bring myself to post this second carnivorous recipe without some sort of comment on meat.
On Saturday night Colin and I attended an evening of short films and panel discussion about food sustainability hosted by the Brisbane branch of Youth Food Movement Australia. My flirtations with a meat-free diet have always been more about health than politics, so it was good to think a bit deeper about the intricacies of economics, distribution and sustainability. Putting to one side all the ethical arguments about animal suffering, meat requires significantly more energy, nutrients and water to produce than grains and other vegetable foods. Meat production is a major contributor to soil degradation and pollution, and since Western diets are heavy in meat, our ecological footprint is several times larger than that of people in developing countries.
Some of the panelists stressed that this doesn’t mean that we need to be vegetarian in order to be sustainable. Organic, or better yet, ecological farming works to support biodiversity, protect and enhance soil integrity, and rear animals humanely. As consumers, we need to support such farming practices if we are ever to transform an industry driven by a demand for cheap meat. One of my take home messages is that it’s better to pay a bit more for good quality meat, even if it means you eat less meat overall. My other take home message is that in-vitro meat is scary – and that’s enough said about that.
Two weekends ago the Brisbane winter gave a last gasp in the form of steady rain and chilly temperatures – perfect conditions for enjoying the last meaty casserole of the season. We visited friends for dinner and enjoyed Adam’s famous lamb shanks cooked in a rich tomato sauce. Lately he’s been using a pressure cooker to prepare this dish and in a mere 45 minutes the meat had become so tender and succulent that it barely required cutlery or chewing. Guess what’s on my Christmas list now.
Everyone knows that lamb shanks are a tough cut of meat that require careful cooking to become palatable. Without the magic of a pressure cooker, this usually achieved by a method of long, slow stewing until the meat and connective tissue soften. This is the understanding that I have had for years, but it turns out that it isn’t strictly the case. Lately I’ve been turning to a recipe by Guy Mirabella that involves roasting the shanks at a moderate temperature in only a small amount of liquid. The resulting meat is much firmer than a slow-cooked shank, but we’re talking a sticky toothsome chew, rather than a tough, stringy gnaw. Neither method is better; they are simply two different styles of preparing lamb shanks that both work for different reasons.
The other thing this recipe has going for it is a really interesting flavour profile. I usually pair lemon with white meat or fish, but the bright acid note works really well here against the earthiness of the shanks. The wine and pomegranate molasses (or marsala, in Guy’s original version of the recipe) provide fruitiness, and the grapes and tomatoes become like a rustic sweet-and-sour chutney once roasted. The toasted pine nuts lend little bursts of oily astringency that help to cut through the richness of the buttery sauce. Overall, the dish feels boldly Mediterranean; a perfect dinner to straddle the chill of winter and the rapidly coming spring.
Lamb Shanks with Pomegranate & Lemon
6-8 lamb shanks (French trimmed shanks aren’t necessary, but look great once cooked)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
4 sprigs rosemary or 6 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
100g butter, cubed
500g red seedless grapes, separated into small clusters
8 small tomatoes
2 cups dry white wine
2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
Handful parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F.
Rinse the lamb shanks and dry with paper towels. Trim off any excess fat. Rub the lemon zest and juice into the shanks and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Pour the oil into a large, deep roasting pan. Place the shanks into the pan. Scatter over the rosemary or bay leaves, garlic cloves and butter and position the grapes and tomatoes around the shanks. Mix together the wine and pomegranate molasses. Pour half into the pan, reserving the other half to one side. Cover the pan tightly with foil and place in the oven.
Roast for 45 minutes then remove from the oven. Turn the shanks over, replace the foil and place back in the oven for another 45 minutes. Remove the foil, baste the shanks and roast uncovered for a further 45 minutes, or until the meat is beginning to pull away from the bone. During this time the shanks will turn a deep brown colour, so keep an eye on them and turn them over again if it looks as though they are colouring too much.
Once cooked, remove the shanks, tomatoes and grapes to a serving platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Add the reserved wine and molasses to the roasting pan and place over a high heat (or transfer liquid to a saucepan). Bring to a boil and simmer to reduce and thicken the sauce, about 10 minutes.
Pour the sauce over the shanks, sprinkle over the chopped parsley and pine nuts. Serve with mash and greens.