Thursday, November 7, 2013

Slow Baked Lamb Shoulder with Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Photograph by A. Schloss


Where do all the lamb shoulders go? This super-succulent cut used to be commonplace and irresistibly inexpensive, but now most markets can't get them at any price. One would think they would be plentiful (for every leg of lamb there has to be a shoulder, unless modern lamb anatomy has been altered). So when our neighborhood co-op told me they were getting in a whole lamb and asked what cut I wanted - my response was immediate -shoulder, both of them, and Mike threw in the breast bones, since nobody else wanted those delicious spindly ribs. 

The lamb was "apple-finished"; which I had heard of in pork, but never lamb. Letting pasture grazed animals feed on apple drops and fruit that is thinned during the summer is an heirloom practice that is still done on small multi-purpose farms. The fruit produces fat that is particularly sweet and mild.  

There is a fool-proof recipe for lamb shanks in Cooking Slow (page 74-75) that introduces za’atar (the classic Arab spice blend of thyme, sumac, and sesame) to oven-dried tomatoes (page 50) - one of the best things you can do with a bumper crop of tomatoes or to transform greenhouse tomatoes into soft sweet-tart morsels. The recipe in the book calls for 4 lbs lamb shanks on the bone, since the shoulders I got were about the same weight and a close enough cut in toughness and anatomical proximity I decided to revamp my old standby with my new purchase.

Photograph by A. Schloss
Because slow cooked meats benefit from a few hours of seasoning before cooking, and because I hadn't picked the lamb up until late in the afternoon on Saturday I decided to season it and rest it in the refrigerator overnight so that I’d be able to give it all day Sunday in the oven.

One more shift before I start cooking – no sumac– so I switched out the za’atar for some Tunisian Fire Chef Salt. I manufacture Chef Salt so I always have it around and Tunisian Fire is deliciously exotic, a blend of caraway, coriander, cardamom, saffron, piri-piri peppers, and a moist crunchy Mediterranean sea salt. How could I go wrong?

Tunisian Slow-Baked Lamb Shoulder with Oven-Dried Tomatoes
Makes 4 servings

4 lb lamb shoulder on the bone
3 tbsp olive oil
2 large yellow onions, coarsely shredded
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup/240 ml full-bodied red wine such as Merlot or Cabernet
1 cup/240 ml good-quality low-sodium beef broth
1/2 recipe (about 2 cups) Oven-Dried Tomatoes (recipe follows)

Rub half of the spice mixture over the lamb and set aside for at least 30 minutes, or refrigerate it overnight. Don’t cover it.

Preheat the oven to 225°F/110°C.
In a large Dutch oven, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the lamb and cook, turning as needed, until nicely browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.

Photograph by A. Schloss

Return the meat to the pot along with any juices that accumulated on the plate. Add the tomatoes, cover, and bake until fork tender, anywhere from 5 to 8 hours, depending on your schedule.

Photograph by A. Schloss
Using tongs, transfer the meat to a carving board. The meat will be super tender and will have pulled away from the bones. There are a lot of bones in this cut, See? But it is easy to remove them before you start carving. Twist the rib bones on the bottom of the roast and lift them out. Now you’ll be able to see 3 or 4 vertebrae under them. Pull them out. Wiggle the end of the blade bone until it feels loose. Lift the round clod of meat on top of the blade bone off and set to one side. Now lift up the blade bone. Depending on how much of the bone cartilage has melted during cooking the blade bone will either separate from the ball joint or it will pull the ball joint bone with it. In either case its easy to twist the bit of leg bone and remove it separately.

You will now have 2 or 3 hunks of meat. Slice them across their grains into 1/2 inch thick slices. Skim the fat from the cooking liquid, and serve the sliced meat with sauce and tomatoes.


Photograph by A. Schloss
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 5 1/2 to 8 1/2 hours
Store: for up to 4 days, covered in the refrigerator. Reheat gently in a low oven.

Variation: In a Slow Cooker
Season and brown the shoulder and make the sauce in the Dutch oven as directed in the recipe. Transfer to a 6-qt/5.7-l slow cooker. Pour the sauce over the meat and top with the tomatoes. Cook fore 4 to 5 hours on high, 6 to 8 hours on low.

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