Monday, January 28, 2013

AROMATIC LAMB STEW WITH PRUNES

Lamb stew with prunes is a Moroccan delicacy that I've wanted to make for a long time. But first, let's get some things out in the open.  Have you got your air freshener handy?  OK, start spraying.  Prunes contain dietary fiber and sugar alcohols which act as laxatives.  Therefore, prunes are a home remedy for constipation, and that has made them the subject of a lot of jokes.  However, these days prunes have gotten an advertising makeover.  Newer packaging labels refer to them as dried plums. Whatever.  Call them dried plums, call them prunes, they are naturally sweet and can be used in lots of recipes.  Lamb stew with prunes is not just popular in Morocco. It's a dish that's sold in lots of bistros all over Paris.  That's where I tasted it for the first time.  That was more than 10 years ago.  I think it was time I tried cooking it at home.  Now, in my opinion, there is no better lamb stew recipe than the one made by Julia Child.  I decided to make lamb stew her way but to omit the vegetables and add prunes instead.  Since it's a cold winter outside, I thought some chestnuts might be a good addition.  Finally, I topped the stew with toasted almonds, which is the traditional thing to do.  The end product was really enjoyable.  The prunes (or dried plums) added a sweet element to the stew.  The spices flavored it just enough and were not overwhelming. I thought of cooking the carrots separately with some orange zest and adding them at the end. They provided a great aroma to the stew.  Julia Child's cooking technique ensured that the lamb shoulder came out moist, soft and delicious. This is a winter stew, a very nice way to enjoy stewed lamb when fresh spring vegetables are not around.

Ingredients:
olive oil for browning
3 pounds lamb shoulder, bones included in the weight
2 small onions, chopped
2 large scallions, 
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
1/2 cup chopped celery
flour and sugar, a little of both
3 cups beef broth
2 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
a pinch of allspice
a pinch of ground cloves
2 bay leaves
1 cup pitted prunes
about 1 cup whole chestnuts, toasted
3/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted, or use whole blanched almonds
For the carrots:
3 carrots, peeled and cut into small diagonal pieces
1/2 cup chicken broth
some salt and pepper
rind from 1/2 small orange
1 tablespoon honey
a pinch of allspice
Directions:
Preheat the oven to 450º F.
The lamb is to be cut into about 1 inch cubes.  Include all the bones but trim off any really fatty part.  After the fat is discarded, the weight of the meat should be 3 pounds. Pat the lamb with paper towels so that it's dry.  That way it can brown well. 
   
In a large braising pan heat the olive oil and brown the lamb in batches so that the pan is not overcrowded.  Place the meat into a Dutch oven. 
Pour the fat out of the skillet, then add and heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Add the chopped onions, garlic and ginger and sauté until the onions are translucent. The cooking of the onions should deglaze the skillet. 
Add the celery, the bay leaves, spices and the broth.  Let it come to a boil, turn off the heat and set the pan off to the side.
Now go to the Dutch oven, where the lamb has been patiently waiting, and sprinkle the lamb with a nice but not heavy coating of sugar.  Place the Dutch oven over medium heat and toss the lamb for about 3 minutes, until the sugar has caramelized. 

Toss the meat with salt and pepper, and then toss it with flour.  Set the casserole, uncovered, in the preheated oven.  After 5 minutes remove it and toss the meat.  

Add a little more flour to the meat, toss again and return it to the oven for another 5 minutes.  Remove it from the oven again and turn the oven down to 325º F.

If there is any fat in the pot, pour it out.  Add the stock mixture to the Dutch oven.  The lamb should be covered with the liquid.  Bring to a boil and scrape up the bottom of pot.  Simmer and stir for about 1 minute so that the broth and flour are mixed.   Simmer a little while longer.  Cover, place in the oven and cook for  hours. 



While the lamb is baking, make the carrots.  Place them in a small pot and add the chicken broth.  Add the orange peel, some salt and pepper, the allspice and the honey.  Cook the carrots until the majority of the liquid has been reduced and the carrots are soft and fragrant.



After the one and a half hours are up, remove the lamb from the oven.  Pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve or colander which is resting in a large bowl.  Clean the casserole. 
OK, I have to fess up... this lamb is overcooked by half an hour.  I had lost track of time, and I let it cook a little too long.  However, the result was that the meat became very soft and it kind of melted in my mouth.  There was almost no need to chew it.  There was no effect on the flavor,  the stew was absolutely delicious.  
Throw out the bay leaves and remove the bones from the lamb.  Place the meat back into the casserole. 
Skim the fat off the sauce and pour the sauce over the lamb.  
Heat the ingredients in the Dutch oven, add the prunes, carrots and chestnuts, cover the Dutch oven, place it back in the oven and cook for another another half hour. 

By now the meat should be really soft, coming apart meltingly soft, and the sauce should be thick.  Take it out of the oven and serve it topped with toasted sliced almonds.  Ideally, lamb stew with prunes is served over couscous, but rice will do very nicely also. 

1 comment:

  1. Greek food is some of the best food I have ever eaten. I did a report on Greece in school when I was younger and really fell in love with the food. I have been frying cheese ever since that report.

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