Merguez and Olive Braised Lamb

When the season gets cold enough, I love to serve braised beasts.  There is no easier (or tastier) way to turn a tougher cut of meat into a juicy, yielding morsel.  And it’s pretty easy.  If you follow the steps for braising, you can apply the technique to any protein and even some vegetables.  It gets even better; if you add more liquid, you’re now stewing, and you’ve mastered two techniques in one fell swoop.  Nice work, you.

Grocery bits.  When you are looking for braising or stewing cuts, look for shoulder, shanks, rumps, butts, leg and thighs, essentially the harder working parts.

While the braise was working, I got a vegetable side going as well; red bliss potatoes cooked in a saffron/garlic/bay broth.  I love this combination of flavors with potatoes.  Especially with fish or lamb, yum!

Step one:  Brown the meat.

Braises and stews are great because you can almost always produce the whole event in one oven-safe (enameled or otherwise) dish.  Get a little oil going in the pot, and bring it to a high temperature.  Lay the seasoned protein in the pot and give it a good sear.  Then turn down the heat and remove the meats.

Step Two:

Sweat the aromatics (here, onion, garlic, and bell pepper), then deglaze with a little wine (enough to just cover the bottom of the pot, let’s say), let that reduce by half.

Get your aromatic garnishes ready.  Hare are kalamata, castelvetrano, and oil cured olives.

Lamb likes a lot of aromatics.  I wrapped all of this up in some cheesecloth and butcher’s twine so that it would be easy to remove when the braise was finished.  A lot easier that picking out little pieces of this and that.

Step Three:

Return the protein to the pot, along with the aromatic garnishes, and cover the meat with additional stock or water by 1/2.  Bring this to a simmer and cover the pot (with lid or foil).

Step Four:

That’s it.  Now pop it in a 350 degree oven and check for doneness every once in a while.  Start after an hour for small pieces or thin pieces.  Then check every thirty minutes.  The protein is well cooked when the meat is very tender (pierces easily with a fork or pairing knife).

Here’s the braised lamb shoulder, tender, and out from the oven.

Step Five:

Check the remaining liquid for consistency.  It may need more body.  It may not.  Either way, remove the protein and get a good look.

This sauce need more body, so I brought it to a boil and whisked in a cornstarch slurry to thicken it.  Then I returned the lamb to the pot, brought it back to a simmer.  I served it out with the saffron potatoes and sauteed zucchinis dusted with a little smoked paprika.

Here’s the recap:

  • Step One: Sear
  • Step Two: Sweat aromatic vegetables / Deglaze with wine (or not)
  • Step Three:  Return meat and aromatic garnish(es) to pot, cover protein by up to 1/2 with liquid / bring to simmer
  • Step Four: Pop into 350 degree oven and check for doneness after one hour, then every half hour (or so) until done.
  • Step Five: Once protein is tender, check sauce for consistency, and correct body / seasoning / return meat to the pot and serve.

Okay now.  I realize that some of these steps are multi-step-steps.  Don’t hate.  I grouped them this way, because I find natural resting points at each step.  If you need to walk away at any point in this chain of events, these are safe commercial breaks.  And as I mentioned, keep this process in mind, and you can apply the same technique to stewing as well.  There are a lot of classical favorites that fall into this category of cooking, and for good reason.  The technique it not overly complicated, variations are easily employed, and the end results can be really, really delicious eating.

Jump into the fire, my friends!

-Scott

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