Although I fell in love with cooking all by myself, far away from home, where I had no choice but to learn how to feed myself or starve, I draw inspiration from many people. Some I have never met, some I have known all my life. My great-aunt R falls into the latter category. She’s my grandmother’s younger sister and has a long and colorful history of great cooking.
As a child, she taught me how to make pineapple upside down cake and apple pie. When I was older, she demystified the workings of callos and bacalao ala Vizcaina. Like most cooks of the generation before my parents, she uses no exact measurements or hard-and-fast recipes (except when baking of course…she was a well-accomplished baker in her heyday!). To learn anything, I had to sit patiently and listen carefully, asking the right questions lest I end up with a whole pig’s leg in my tiny kitchen (“make sure you see the hoof!”).
These days, she is happy letting others do the cooking for her most of the time, despite her souped-up kitchen (which C and I look upon with admiration and envy). We dine out (she loves swanky French food) or in (she also loves C’s sinigang), and always have a grand time (if you get her, my grandmother, and their other sister together the stories will floor you, as will the good-natured, though at times high-octane, teasing).
Another thing she enjoys nowadays is gifting C and I with food. The lamb shanks I used here were from her.
Incredible Baked Lamb Shanks
(adapted from Incredible Baked Lamb Shanks in Jamie Oliver's Cook With Jamie)
- 2 lamb shanks
- 75-80 grams butter, cold but malleable
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 10 fresh sage leaves
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
- 1 large carrot, peeled and finely sliced
- 1 white onion, peeled and sliced into half moons
- 2 leeks, sliced (note that I am using the local leeks which are much smaller that the huge Western hemisphere varieties)
- About a wineglass of red wine
- Set aside 2 sprigs of rosemary and 4 sage leaves. Pick the leaves of the rest of the rosemary and thyme and chop. Chop the remaining sage leaves as well. Mix the chopped herbs with the butter. You can alternately whiz everything together in the food processor. Season with salt and pepper. I like to season this until it is just above your usual level of saltiness as you will be spreading this all over the lamb and it will get diluted by the wine and vegetables.
- Using a small knife, take one of the lamb shanks and cut between the meat and the bone from the base of the shank upwards. You want to make a hole big enough to put your finger in. Repeat with the other shank.
- Divide the herb butter between the “pockets” you have cut at the base of your shanks, pushing it all the way in. Rub the remaining butter all over the shanks themselves.
- Tear off 2 arm-length pieces of foil and fold each in half to give you 2 large pieces of double-layer foil. Divide the garlic and vegetables between the 2 pieces of foil. Lay each shank on each pile of veg, crack some black pepper over that and another light sprinkling of sea salt, then top with the extra rosemary and sage. This is how it will look.
- Carefully pull up the sides of the foil and then pour a swig of wine in each parcel. Gather foil around each shank and seal shut making sure they are closed tightly.
- Arrange the parcels in a baking pan and place in a pre-heated 375F oven for 3-3.5 hours or until lamb is very tender.
- You can serve the parcels directly so each person can open their own serving, or transfer everything into a serving dish making sure not to lose any of the buttery juices!
Yet another recipe from Jamie Oliver’s Cook WithJamie. If you were to say that I am totally enamored by this book you would be absolutely right. Honest, delicious, earthy cooking…and these lamb shanks are a perfect example. I’ve changed the quantities, as well as the cooking temperature and time, but essentially the method remains the same. And what a method it is! These were some of the softest shanks that ever came out of my oven. Wrapping the meat and all the aromatics in foil (and see to it that it’s tightly sealed please!) creates a little steam bath that keeps the meat moist and flavorful, and renders it sinuously pliant. The lamb ends up soft and sticky, drenched in intensely flavored buttery juices. I plan to try this using other flavor combinations as well.
Aside from the gifts of lamb shanks, we have also received slabs of steak, Campbell’s soup, fresh apples and pears, olives, duck confit, little cans of mandarin oranges packed in syrup, beef ribs cut for kalbi, and rotisserie chicken. Once she appeared on our doorstep with a whole leg of lamb! I think it’s sufficient to say that we love my great-aunt R’s generous, if sometimes random, care packages. Almost as much as we love her.
Family, and those you choose to be your family, are pretty special in my book. Give someone in your family a hug this weekend! :)