By contributing writer Mary Cressler
I’ll admit that I’m not the most original person in the kitchen. Unlike my husband, who gets most of his creative cooking inspiration from his head, I look elsewhere (magazines, blogs, and travel experiences) for new ideas.
One of the most inspiring dishes I’ve had was on a trip to Bordeaux at La Tupina Restaurant. The dish was a 7-Hour Braised Lamb and it was ridiculously indulgent and fall-off-the-bone-melt-in-your-mouth tender. It was served family style to our group, but I would have gladly kept that whole plate all to myself.
After I returned home, I couldn’t stop thinking about that meal and had to try to make it myself. I requested it for my birthday, and my husband happily obliged. But it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t even close. The meat wasn’t tender enough (he only braised it for 1 ½ hours), and there were vegetables cut up into visible chunks, unlike the one at La Tupina, which was just the meat and a decadent sauce. So we tried again a few weeks later. This time I tried to emulate what I remembered from the restaurant—a true 7-hour braise, no chunky veggies, and a rich sauce.
After reading this NY Times article I was leery of a full 7-hour braise and the potential of over braising. And after purchasing my lamb shanks, which were fairly small (just under 1 pound each), I decided to take the advice of the article and check on the texture starting at the 4-hour mark. The author was right, the meat was tender enough at around 5 hours, so I took it out of the oven at that point.
Wanting the sauce to be as silky and smooth at La Tupina, I decided to remove the lamb from the pot, puree the remaining sauce and vegetables to get rid of any chunks, and then reduce it some more for a thick and full-flavored sauce. I also removed the bones in order to serve the entire meal family style, just like the restaurant. The results were fantastic and as close to that dish as I could have possibly imagined.
What should you serve with this braised lamb? Well, red Bordeaux of course!
To me, some of the best pairings are regional pairings – serving wines to reflect the same region of the dish. This traditional rustic yet elegant dish was served at the restaurant with a stunning Château Doms “Cuvée Amélie”.
This is a truly elegant dish perfect for a special holiday meal or a fun dinner with friends.
- 4 lamb shanks (approx 1 pound each)
- Salt & Pepper
- Olive oil
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 3 medium sized carrots, roughly chopped
- 3 medium sized celery stalks, roughly chopped
- 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1 15-ounce can whole tomatoes (with liquid)
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 8 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- More salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
- Sprinkle the lamb liberally with salt and pepper on all sides.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot (or Dutch oven) to medium heat. Add the lamb and brown on all sides (approximately 4 minutes per side). You may need to do this in batches if your pot isn't large enough for all 4 pieces. Remove and set aside.
- Pour out the fat that has developed at the bottom of the pan (important for avoiding a thin, runny, and oily sauce).
- Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pot. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and cook until soft (around 5 minutes). Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, wine, chicken stock, rosemary and thyme (bundled together with string), and bay leaf. Add the lamb to the mixture and bring to a boil.
- Cover with a lid and place in oven. Let it cook approximately 4 hours. Take a peek after 4 hours to check on the tenderness. Cook an additional hour if not tender enough.
- Remove pot from oven, transfer shanks (carefully!) to a plate. Using a large spoon, skim off any fat from the surface. Using a hand immersion blender, puree all remaining vegetables and sauce until smooth (or transfer to a blender). If the sauce seems really liquidy, reduce in the pan for about 5-10 minutes.
- While the sauce is reducing, remove the bones from the shanks. Pour sauce in a serving dish and gently place the lamb on top.
- Serve family style with mashed potatoes, celery root puree, or traditional French Flageolet Beans, and of course, a baguette to scoop up the leftover sauce.
The slowly stewed flavors and gamey sweet lamb will pair well with a variety of wines, but as I mentioned above, I prefer to pair it with red Bordeaux.
Bordeaux and lamb are a classic pairing and a perfect explanation for what grows together goes together. Red Bordeaux range in style and quality, but for the sake of simplicity they are generally dark in color, with rich dark fruit and earthy aromas. They can also have some hefty tannins, which will be tamed when paired with the slowly braised rich lamb. The lamb’s indulgently soft and sweet flavors really bring out the fruit characteristics of the wine and both the wine and dish are elevated to a new level with this pairing.
This dish is great with a simple value Bordeaux, but it could also be a good time to open up that extra special bottle you’ve been holding onto.
At my dinner at La Tupina we drank a 2010 Château Doms “Cuvée Amélie”, which I loved so much I bought an extra bottle from the restaurant and flew it all the way back to Oregon with me. I opened it when I made this dish at home with my husband. But any number would be a great match, including:
Château de La Dauphine
Château Vieux Maillet
Château de Pez, Saint-Estephe
Domaines Baron Rothschild Reserve Speciale Bordeaux
Château Jean Faux
You really can’t go wrong this holiday season serving this decedent lamb dish with a bottle of red Bordeaux. While it really isn’t that complicated to make, your guests will be in awe and remember it for days. For me, it will always be the perfect reminder of an excellent trip to an amazing wine region.
We hope you enjoy our wine pairing choices. If you want to know which wines YOU will like best, download the FREE iPhone app Wine4.Me. Tell it what wines you know you like and get your own personalized rankings of best-selling, widely available wines in the US.
Mary Cressler is a Certified Sommelier, a Wine Location Specialist, and the proprietor of Vindulge: Wine Education & Consulting. She conducts wine classes and events and offers consulting for individuals, restaurants, and event planners.
She writes about wine, food, and travel on her blog Vindulge. Mary resides in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, twin boys, and two Chihuahuas.