Food & Wine (October 2010)
That was the reaction of our friend Drew when we set this dish on the table during a recent dinner party.
It's the perfect reaction and we could agree more.
This hearty lamb stew, slowly braised and given a great Mediterranean spin from olives and red peppers, is everything that's perfect about fall cooking: leisurely, warm and satisfying.
Our only issue with this dish is that we had problems sourcing the main ingredient. The recipe calls for "4 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch chunks."
We went to our neighborhood supermarket, searching for lamb shoulder, but to no avail. The butcher told us we wouldn't find this cut available anywhere in town. Hmm. We're not sure if he was right, but unfortunately we didn't have time to go to another store to see what was available.
Against the butcher's advice we instead purchased a combo of lamb shoulder chops (bone-in) and lamb stew meat. The stew meat was fine -- easy to cut up. The chops, on the other hand, had to be deboned, which was a doable but time-consuming task.
This recipe, to us, epitomizes the best of fall cooking because it's a slow braise that requires very little hands-on time (especially if you find a boneless lamb shoulder). But the payoff is big.
We even did this ragout as a make-ahead meal, cooking it on one night and serving it the next, which worked beautifully. We braised the lamb for 2 1/2 hours on a Tuesday night. Then, after work on Wednesday, we just needed 30 minutes to shred the lamb, reduce the stock and add the olives and peppers (which we had prepped the previous night).
We just loved the flavors if this dish. The lamb itself is super tasty and wonderfully tender, and the briny, salty flavor of the olives is the perfect complement to the dish. Served over plump pearls of Israeli couscous, it's sumptuous, comforting and decidedly delicious.
For dessert that night, we served the Chocolate Malt Cake we wrote about earlier this week -- the one with all the Ovaltine. Both the lamb and cake were big hits with our dinner guests, and spurred one of the best thank-you notes we've ever received, from our friend Jeff:
- ACTIVE: 45 MIN
- TOTAL TIME: 3 HRS 30 MIN
- SERVINGS: 6
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 4 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch chunks
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large white onions, coarsely chopped
- 4 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
- 3 carrots, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup tomato paste1 cup dry red wine
- 10 cups water
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup sliced pitted Picholine olive.
- 3/4 cup sliced roasted red pepper.
- 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
- 2 cups Israeli couscous
- Preheat the oven to 250°. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the oil until shimmering. Season the lamb with salt and black pepper and add it to the casserole. Cook over moderately high heat, turning the pieces once or twice, until deeply browned, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer the lamb to a platter.
- Add the onions, celery and carrots to the casserole. Cover and cook over low heat just until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook over moderately high heat, stirring until the paste is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the pot, until nearly evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the water, season with salt and bring to a boil. Return the lamb and any accumulated juices to the casserole. Cover and braise in the oven for about 2 1/2 hours, until tender.
- Transfer the lamb to the platter. Remove any fat and gristle and coarsely shred the meat. Strain the broth and discard the solids. Skim the fat from the surface of the broth. Return the broth to the casserole and boil until reduced to 4 cups, about 30 minutes.
- In a small bowl, mix the butter with the flour to form a paste; whisk it into the broth and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Return the lamb to the sauce. Add the olives, red peppers and tarragon and keep warm.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the couscous and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain the couscous and transfer to shallow bowls. Spoon the lamb ragout over the couscous and serve.