Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Braised Asian Lamb Shanks with Shitake Mushrooms and Sweet Potato & Coriander Mash

A few strange things happened to me this New Year. Firstly, I went out. Not just to the pub across the road or a friend’s house but properly out. We joined the crowds of young, trendy and beautiful people of Bangkok to head up to the 39th floor of a hotel for a rooftop party. The following day something else strange happened to me. I woke up feeling really nostalgic for London. Somehow I actually missed being cold. I love living in the tropics so found this quite unsettling. Nonetheless, I decided to indulge my cravings and cranked the air conditioning up to Arctic, put on a jumper and set about cooking some proper hearty, warming comfort food. But with a twist of course.

I learned to cook lamb shanks about this time last year, in my flat in South London. Back then, I made them with a red wine sauce and a creamy parsnip mash. Now in Thailand, I am using Asian ingredients which lend themselves amazingly to this dish. The sauce is delicately flavoured - I didn’t want it to be too overpowering that would mask the distinctive flavour of the lamb, which comes out so tender from the slow cooking. The mushrooms after all that time in the sauce are like little flavour grenades. And the mash is so tasty - it had my boyfriend scraping out the pot for the last dregs (though he refused to let me take a photo for the blog). I’m still using the local variety of sweet potato, hence why they look a little green not orange but I’ve got used to that now.

The dish did the trick. I went to bed full and happy and the next day reset the air-con to normal and embraced the sunshine.

Time: 2hr 15 mins – but don’t let this put you off, most of this is cooking time, the prep is minimal.
Rating: Easy. The flavours and the oven do all the work on this dish and the accompaniments are very straightforward.  
Serves 2

For the lamb shanks
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 lamb shanks
2 shallots
50g shitake mushrooms
1 inch knob of ginger, peeled
4 garlic cloves
2 small red chillies (medium spicy)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 lemongrass stalk
500ml stock (beef is fine)
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
1 tbsp fish sauce
Juice 1 lime

For the sweet potato mash
350g sweet potatoes
20g butter
1 small red chilli
Small bunch fresh coriander
2 tbsp milk
Salt and pepper

A couple of handfuls of pak choi


  1. Heat oven to 170C.
  2. First, prepare the condiment vegetables: remove the outer stalks of the lemongrass. No need to chop but bruise using a rolling pin or something else heavy. Peel and halve the shallots. Cut the chilli in half lengthways and deseed. Cut the ginger in half. Trim the stalks of the mushrooms and leave them whole.
  3. Then you need to seal the meat. Firstly, season the lamb with salt and pepper. Then heat the vegetable oil in a casserole dish and fry the lamb shanks for 2-3 minutes, turning regularly until browned all over.
  4. Remove the lamb and add the onions, garlic, chilli and mushrooms. Fry them for about 1min. Then add the five spice powder and stir again for about 30 seconds. Then add the soy, fish sauce, lime juice, balsamic vinegar and sugar. Heat gently, stirring constantly for another minute or so. Finally add the stock, ginger and lemongrass.
  5. Put the lamb back in, cover the casserole with a lid and cook in the oven for 2 hours, until the lamb is really tender, almost falling off the bone. All ovens are different so it’s hard to be exact on the timing. Check on your lamb a couple of times and judge the timing for yourself.
  6. While you’re waiting for the lamb to finish cooking, start on the mash. Peel then cut the potatoes into large, fairly even-sized chunks. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, tip in the potatoes and cook for 15 minutes, until tender but not slushy.
  7. While the potatoes are boiling, deseed and very finely chop the chilli and the coriander leaves.
  8. When the potatoes are done, drain well and return to the saucepan.
  9. Push the potatoes to one side of the pan and put the butter into the space. Return the saucepan to a very low heat and let the butter melt. Start mashing the potatoes with a masher.
  10. Now add the milk and mash the potatoes vigorously, until smooth. Then stir in the chili, coriander, salt and pepper. Take off the heat, put the lid on and keep warm until you’re ready to serve.
  11. Five minutes before you are ready to serve, bbriefly steam or stir fry the pak choi. Don’t overcook these – you want the leaves to have just turned from crunchy to soft, but not mushy.
  12. Plate up: start with the sweet potato mash. Either spoon this out carefully or for a neater presentation use a pastry cutter to get a perfect circle of mash. Next place one lamb shank and a few greens on each plate. Fish out the mushrooms from the pot and place a few on each plate. Finish by gently spooning some of the sauce over the top. Try not to serve up the chilli, lemongrass, ginger or garlic as their work in this dish is done.

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