This is the lamb shank recipe (adapted from The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert (Wiley 2003)) to make when you have winter company (in other words, many hands to wash the dishes), but it's no quickie. You'll have to start a day ahead, and instead of a 3 hour stovetop braise, the pot goes into a low oven for 4 1/2 to 5 hours. And it takes a half-dozen pots and pans to prep. But the thickly textured, mole-like sauce with its overtones of brandy and cocoa will have guests licking from the bowl until you make them stop.
Makes 6 servings
For The Shanks
1 bottle full-bodied red wine
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 onion, thickly sliced
1 large leek (white and tender green), halved lengthwise and thickly sliced crosswise
1 head of garlic, halved horizontally
1 lemon, quartered
1/2 cup drained and chopped canned plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
5 pounds lamb shanks (4 to 6 shanks)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
For The Almond-Chocolate Picada
24 blanched almonds
4 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 slice of stale country white bread, cut 1-inch thick and toasted, crust trimmed
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon brandy
2 teaspoons cooking juices from the lamb shanks
In a large saucepan, boil the wine until it is reduced to 2 cups, about 10 minutes. Add the carrots, onion, leek, halved garlic head, lemon, plum tomatoes, thyme, oregano, peppercorns and bay leaves and simmer for 5 minutes. Let the marinade cool completely.
Put the lamb shanks in a large glass bowl or a sealed heavy-duty plastic bag. Add the marinade. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The following day, let the meat return to room temperature. Remove the lamb from the marinade and pat dry. Discard the lemon quarters and strain the marinade, reserving the vegetables and wine separately.
Season the lamb shanks generously with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Cook the lamb shanks in batches over moderately high heat, turning, until browned all over, about 8 minutes per batch. (Or, brown the shanks on a foil-lined baking sheet under the broiler. See "A Note On Browning," above, in story inset.) Transfer the browned lamb to a large enameled cast-iron casserole, preferably with about a 7-quart capacity. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Add the reserved vegetables to the skillet along with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and cook over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until deep brown and tender, about 15 minutes. Press the vegetables to express the oil, tilt the skillet to remove with a spoon, and transfer to the casserole.
Pour off the oil in the skillet. Add 1/2 cup water to the skillet and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits that have stuck to the bottom. Boil until reduced to a syrup. Add another cup of water and bring to a boil, then scrape the contents of the skillet into the casserole. Pour the wine from the marinade into the skillet and heat to a bare simmer, and add to the casserole. Cover the meat and vegetables with a sheet of wet crumpled parchment paper directly on top of the meat.
Cover the casserole with the lid and cook the lamb in the oven for 4 1/2 to 5 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Discard the paper. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the lamb shanks to an oiled shallow baking dish large enough to hold them in a single layer. Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper and cover loosely with foil.
Strain the cooking juices through a strainer set over a saucepan, pressing hard on the solids to extract the liquid. Skim off as much fat as possible from the cooking juices. Boil the juices over high heat, skimming frequently, until reduced to 2 cups, about 15 minutes. (Up to this point, the recipe can be prepared in advance. Refrigerate the meat and sauce separately.)
To prepare the picada, toast the almonds. In a mortar or food processor, grind the almonds and garlic to a coarse paste. Add the parsley, toast, cocoa, brandy and 2 tablespoons of the lamb cooking juices and process or pound until smooth.
If refrigerated, let the meat return to room temperature. Gently reheat the meat and sauce separately. Scrape the picada into the sauce and cook over moderately high heat until the sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Correct the seasoning. Pour the sauce over the lamb and bake for 30 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve.