I Love Cooking with Wine…
There’s an old adage that you never cook with a wine you won’t drink. And for the most part, we (serious) cooks and wine aficionados follow that recommendation. Mostly.
Let’s face it. We will often open up two bottles of wine when we’re cooking with wine. The one we actually cook with and the one we drink. Both good. But the one we’re drinking is always better. Isn’t that true?
Well I decided to try a new recipe (one I made up) for braised lamb shanks. As do most recipes for traditional(ish) braised lamb recipes, this one called for the requisite red wine. The wine I chose is one I had in my large cooler and hadn’t done anything with. It was a 2007 Barnwood Grenache – Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard. I mean, I *like* Grenache, but it’s not my favorite. That would be Pinot Noir. But I knew it was a good wine – Barnwood is one of the second labels of Laetitia Winery – and figured that Grenache’s earthy qualities would be ideal for what I had planned. Syrah/Shiraz would be a little too fruity for my needs.
When it came time to deglaze the pan, I poured some of the wine into a glass, and then freely poured it into the pan. After scraping the fond and setting the flame to a lower level so that the wine could reduce, I sipped a little out of the glass.
Damn. What have I done?
Wow that wine was delicious! I can’t use this for, well, *cooking*!
The bad part was that not only was it good straight out of the bottle, but it was good later as it mellowed and evolved. It started off with bright berries, earth, and lavender. It evolved into tobacco, spices, a bit of black cherries, and had a character of warm earthiness. What could be better with the lamb? Or my palate?
Of course it’s my only bottle. And only through the club. Damn again.
Well, I can’t complain, because not only did the lamb dish turn out perfectly, but the wine was a perfect accompaniment. It is said that you should only drink and cook with the same wine. I can’t recall ever actually doing it before. It works. And it works deliciously.
Here’s the recipe – remember, I don’t do anything by exact measures, so you’re on your own in that regard:
Irene’s Braised Lamb Shanks
- 3 lamb shanks
- 1 large or two medium onions – chopped
- 6 garlic cloves – minced
- 2 stalks celery – chopped
- 2 large carrots – chopped
- 1 pkg. button mushrooms
- 2 Tbs herbes de provence (more or less)
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary and sprig of thyme
- 1 large can diced tomatoes – drained
- Beef broth
- Sea salt
- Nutmeg – about 1 tsp, preferably fresh grated
- A bottle of your favorite grenache
Preheat oven to 275F (135C).
I used an enameled cast iron dutch oven. I only *wish* it were a Le Creuset.
Sear the shanks in about two tablespoons of oil (I use grapeseed oil – surprise – because it’s good for high heat cooking) until nicely browned. Remove the shanks.
Turn the heat down slightly and throw in the onions. Let them cook until completely translucent and just beginning to brown. Add the celery and carrots and saute gently. Mash the garlic cloves with about 1 tablespoon of sea salt (I like the chunky gray salt, and I used a mortar and pestle to mash) and add to the vegetable mixture. Stir a little, and remove the vegetables within minutes. You don’t want the garlic to brown at all. Add the mushrooms and let them get a little browned before removing them.
Add about a cup of wine to the pan, scraping the brown bits. Drink a glass. Enjoy it.
Add the lamb shanks and the vegetables back to the pan and about two cups of broth along with the tomatoes. Add the seasonings, but leave the salt till later. The salted garlic will be just enough for now. Cover the pan and place in the oven. Let braise for about 2-1/2 hours. Three hours may be better.
After taking the pan from the oven, remove the shanks and the vegetables. Discard the rosemary and thyme. Set it over a medium heat, and adjust seasonings as it reduces. If you prefer a thicker sauce, you can do one of three things: a couple of tablespoons of corn starch in a little liquid and stirred in; a couple of pats of butter; or just letting it reduce slowly for an extended period. I compromised on the first two.
Drink another glass.
Add the shanks and veggies back to the liquid and just let them reheat. Serve with your favorite noodles or rice. I actually made noodles – Mexican saffron infused noodle – but something went horribly wrong. I don’t want to talk about it. This dish is great with Orzo, however. Along with a salad containing garlic, parsley, lemon, and romaine, it makes a yummy dinner.
And the wine. Oh, the wine!
So here’s the moral of my very long story. Drink the wine you cook with/cook with the wine you drink. There’s no question as to whether it’ll pair well. It will.
And beautifully, I might add.
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