Lamb Shoulder – the whole animal series

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Braucher’s Sunshine Harvest Farms is a 4th generation family farm. They have a committed Community Supported Agriculture customer base and also sell at Farmer’s Markets such as Kingfield. I have come to know them by buying half lambs. Sunshine Harvest gets two key things right: their meat tastes really good and they are nice people who seem to know virtually all of their customers. When I have purchased half lambs I have also been able to work with their butcher to specify my specific cuts, which has allowed for additional experimentation.

This post will get the lamb whole animal series going again with my favorite cut – the shoulder. Braised lamb shoulder retains texture, offers a nuanced but full flavor, and fills the house with an incredible smell. Sure, chops present well and don’t take long to prepare. The leg is an easy roast and looks nice on the table. Ground lamb makes an amazing burger, especially if you don’t cook it beyond medium. Shank and neck also make a wonderful stew. Last year, I wrote a duck whole animal series which covered Stock and offal and a second take of lamb offal will be attempted as part of this series based on the virtually inedible results of my first try. When more than half a lamb is required for this series, everything else will come from Lowry Hill Meats.

What will you need to get started?

One lamb shoulder
2 medium chopped onions and 4 cloves of sliced garlic
4-6 carrots, cleaned and chopped into half rings
2 cans of crushed tomatoes
A half bottle of unoaked, medium bodied white or red wine
One quart lamb or chicken stock
Fresh parsley, thyme (or other soft greens) and a bay leaf
Ridged pasta, cavatelli works well

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Bachelor Porkchop’s master braise recipe:
  • Buy a lamb shoulder from a farmer or butcher shop who you trust
  • Season the shoulder with salt and pepper
  • Heat a dutch oven on the stove with a neutral oil or duck fat over medium high heat and sear the lamb shoulder on both sides until a crust is formed
  • Remove the lamb shoulder. Add 2 medium chopped onions and cook over medium heat for a few minutes as they gently brown.
  • After a few minutes, add 4-6 roughly cut carrots along with a few squirts of tomato paste, the garlic you sliced, and some fresh thyme that is removed from the stem. Cook for a few more minutes until soft.
  • Add two 12 oz cans of high quality chopped tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Even better, add a quart of tomatoes that you canned during peak tomato season.
  • Taste the wine you plan to use. I like a dryer, unoaked, medium bodied white white such as sauvignon blanc, or a medium or fuller bodied red with minimal oak, such as a malbec or Côtes du Rhône. If it isn’t worthy of drinking you shouldn’t cook with it but you don’t need to use a $25+ bottle of wine either. If you haven’t braised with white wine, give it a try. I think the flavors of the meat stand on their own in a lovely way.
  • Add a quart of darker stock (lamb or chicken would work well) and a half bottle of a dry white or medium bodied red wine. This goes without saying but if you make the stock your efforts will be rewarded. If you don’t, try to buy some house made stock from a butcher shop.
  • Tie butcher string around fresh parsley, thyme, other fresh herbs (tarragon is particularly nice with this dish), and a dried bay leaf. I either don’t use or go easy on rosemary here to avoid the piney flavors that can overwhelm a dish – especially if you are using white wine.
  • Put the shoulder back in the dutch oven. Add stock and/or wine to get to at least one inch below the top of the shoulder
  • If you aren’t planning on working out while the shoulder is braising, have a glass of the wine you didn’t use
  • Transfer the covered dutch oven to a 300 degree oven for 2.5 or 3 hours, or until it is pullable after intersting a fork
  • Remove herb bundle and place shoulder on a cutting board to cool
  •  You now have two options:
    1. Add tomatoes, and cook down the sauce a bit while the shoulder cools
    2. Use an immersion blender or potato smasher to create more consistency with the remaining sauce and reduce to a thick sauce or even a demi glace
  • Remove the meat from the the lamb shoulder and pull or chop into bite sized pieces, add back to the sauce and add additional salt and pepper to taste
  • Serve mixed with pasta and potentially a dash of an interesting olive oil to finish the dish. I like Cavatelli, but any pasta with rougher edges will hold on to the sauce well.

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Other lamb shoulder preparations: Thinly sliced for Mark Bittman’s cumin laden stir fry or smoked for hours at 250 degrees until the internal temperature hits at least 190, either with just salt and pepper or a lighter barbeque rub.

Suggested Pairings: Aged Argentine Malbec. We had a 2006 Carmelo Patti Malbec. He is a traditional wine maker and true storyteller who was the highlight of a very notable trip to the Mendoza area. Alternatively, an earthy Oregon Pinot Noir or Beaujolais would complement this intimate meal without overpowering the nuanced flavors.

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