Friday, April 23, 2010

The Shanks of Spring

This was our paschal dinner, of the season and the place, in all simplicity, not standing on ceremony. Lamb shanks cooked in Abby Normal Belgian-style beer from our local Viking Brewing Company , ramps and stinging nettles foraged from the woods, salt and pepper, a little butter to finish the sauce, grilled bread, that's it.

We have nettles growing under one of the apple trees nearest the cabin. I wrote last post about the early emergence of ramps in the woods near one of my favorite trout streams. These young nettles, just a few inches tall, were easy to pick even without gloves. You just carefully reach in and pinch off the stem near the ground. Even if you do brush your hand or arm against the leaves, the little ones don't have much sting.

Sheepy Hollow Lamb shanks. Everything cooked on the outdoor stove. You could brown the shanks in the dutch oven, but since we had a fire going I decided to sear them over the coals.

The Abby Normal makes a great braising liquid, deep and rich, a little bitter and slightly sweet. I poured in a bottle minus a swig, and nearly another bottle of water. I added the greens of the ramps first, and the chopped lower stems from a couple of cups of well-rinsed nettle leaves. It cooked away for about three hours, and halfway through I added the whites of the ramps and the rest of the nettles. It was absolutely edible in that time, the meat easy to flake off the bone, still with a bit of chew to it. Another hour or so wouldn't have hurt, but I don't like dishes where the meat is braised into oblivion.

At the end the sauce was well reduced. The flavor, of beer, ramps, nettles, and lamb was pronounced--this is not a dish for timid palates. I wasn't sure at first that I liked it that much. But I had set out to create a different sort of flavor, I reminded myself, something very simple, elemental, expressing this terroir in this season.

That's what we got. I would make it again. I might try some of our cider in place of the beer. It's the kind of cooking that just makes total sense to me. You don't have to characterize it as French, New American, or whatever. You don't have to say to much about it, because it speaks for itself.

So I'll shut up now.

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw


Emily said...

yum, we had lamb tonight too, chops crusted in lots of garlic. ramps are the best!

el said...

Jellus of dem ramps!

This dish seems to be a bit of a bridge between the old cold winter and the freshness of spring. It's fun to embrace it, especially considering you made it whilst sitting outdoors in the fresh air.

Now let's hear about the first trout steamed with some ramps and herbs! What, opening day is within sight, no?

Trout Caviar said...

Emily: Lamb, garlic, say no more...! Have you tried the Sheepy Hollow lamb at Midtown? It's consistently the best in town, I think.

El: You must have ramps somewhere near you, there in your subtropical paradise! How could they get from Appalachia to WI/MN without finding their way into MI?

Bridging the seasons, yes, that was also very much in mind with that simple dish. Hope to hit the trout stream for the first time this week. MN is open now, WI opener is May 1. Did I say, "YAY!!!"?

Cheers~ Brett

Patrick said...

'Tis the season! I was down south last week eating Appalachian ramps, and I love your combo with lamb and beer - I can smell it simmering from here!

Wendy Berrell said...

Well done. Tapping the nettles a bit myself.

Wendy Berrell said...

Well done. Tapping the nettles a bit myself.