It has been a few months since I have posted a middle eastern recipe. Today's braised lamb shank recipe is a nice example of modern Persian Arabic cuisine.
Many people picture Persian and Arabic cuisine as being kebabs, stuffed vegetables and fancy basmati rice dishes. Casual food is what many western world people picture these cuisines as being. The truth is that Persia has one of the oldest and finest culinary histories in the world. Many food items that the western world takes for granted originated in Persia. Ancient India and Persia both are famous for developing and perfecting many strains of vegetable plants that are now part of nearly every cuisine around the globe. Wheat is a good example of a main staple that was developed in ancient Mesopotamia. The original pilaf was not made with rice, it was made with wheat grain. Bulgar wheat is the original choice of grain for making Persian pilaf. Persian rice pilaf was created at a later time.
Za'atar spice mix is an ancient spice mix and the ingredients vary from chef to chef and household to household. Many family recipes for za'atar spice mix date back to the days of ancient Egypt and the recipes are often closely guarded secrets. There are many regional variations of za'atar spice. I have featured Egyptian za'atar and Jordanian za'atar in this food site so far.
I always suggest purchasing a bag of pre-made imported za'atar spice first, before attempting to create za'atar from scratch. It is best to learn the key flavors and character of the spices, so a flavor goal can be set. Za'atar spice blend can be found in middle eastern markets. Honestly, wild thyme is very hard to find in any American food market. Regular thyme tastes nothing like middle eastern wild thyme. Wild thyme is required for za'atar spice blends. Za'atar is usually 45% to 80% coarsely ground roasted sesame seed. Secondary spices can vary, but they usually include cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom and mace. Usually sumac berry spice is part of the mixture, but some regional za'atar blends do not require this spice.
Tangy pomegranate molasses is used extensively as a cooking sauce in Arabic, Egyptian and Persian cuisine. This item is not really a molasses, it is a syrup that is made with ripe pomegranate and the flavor is not sweet. The flavor of pomegranate molasses is tangy and full of pomegranate essence. Only a small amount is needed to flavor a sauce.
Lamb shoulder steaks are usually overlooked by modern chefs. Modern chefs usually only sell rack of lamb, lamb chops, leg of lamb or lamb shanks. Lamb stew meat comes from the shoulder. Lamb shoulder is usually fairly tender, so a shoulder blade steak is actually a good cut of lamb and the price is reasonable. Braising is a good cooking method for lamb shoulder steak.
The sauce for today's recipe is made like a French demi glace. A full reduction sauce, like glace viande, would be a bit rich and sauce espagnole would cloud the sharp flavor of the pomegranate. Demi glace is perfect for carrying the pomegranate flavor. Whole garlic cloves add flavor and onion sweetens the sauce. This pictures of this lamb steak recipe may look rich and too heavy for hot summer weather, but the opposite is true. The complex flavors of the za'atar and sumac berry in the bulgar pilaf combined with tangy pomegranate in the sauce create a flavor combination that magically tastes great and provides relief for summer heat stress. The slices of Persian preserved lemon add to the effect.
Place 4 pounds of veal bones, lamb bones, beef bones, pork bones and meat scraps into a roasting pan.
Add 5 ounces of tomato paste.
Add 8 to 10 ounces of rustic un-peeled mirepoix of carrot, celery and onion.
Stir the mixture together.
Roast the mixture in a 350º oven, till the bones and vegetables caramelize to a deep brown color. (Stir the ingredients occasionally.)
Place the roasted bones and mirepoix into a stock pot.
Deglaze the roast pan with water and add the jus to the stock pot.
Cover the bones with water and bring to a boil over high heat.
Turn the temperature to medium low heat and simmer for 4 hours.
Add water occasionally to cover the bones.
Strain the stock through a fine sieve.
Discard the bones and vegetables.
Skim off the grease.
Reduce the meat stock by a little more than half.
This is a very rich unseasoned stock that can be frozen in portions for later use.
The glace should be able to thinly coat and glaze the back of a spoon.
When the glace viande is used in recipes, it will be reduced to a slightly thicker glaze to order.
Classic Sauce Espagnole:
This espagnole recipe is by the book! The yield is about 5 cups. Espagnole can be frozen for later use or refrigerated for 7 days.
Place 4 pounds of veal bones, lamb bones, beef bones, pork bones and meat scraps in a roasting pan.
Add 1/4 cup of tomato paste.
Add 12 ounces of a rustic un-peeled mirepoix of:
Roast the mixture in a 350º oven till the bones and vegetables caramelize to a deep brown color. Toss and stir the ingredients occasionally.
Place the bones and mirepoix into a stock pot.
Deglaze the roasting pan with water and add the jus to the stock pot.
Cover the bones with water and bring to a gentle boil over medium high heat.
Reduce the temperature to low heat and simmer for 4 hours.
Skim the grease off of the top of the simmering meat stock.
Add water occasionally to cover the bones.
After 4 hours, the meat stock should be a rich brown color.
Make a brown roux with equal parts of unsalted butter and flour while constantly stirring over medium/medium high heat. (3 1/2 ounces of unsalted butter and 3 1/2 ounces of flour should be enough.) Do not stop stirring or the roux will scorch! Keep stirring as the roux turns a rich brown color.
Add enough of the brown roux to the meat stock pot to thicken the broth to a very thin sauce consistency.
Simmer the thickened meat stock for one hour and stir it occasionally.
Pour the thickened meat stock through a fine mesh strainer into a second pot over low heat.
Discard the bones, meat scraps and vegetables.
Add 1/2 cup of sherry wine per quart of thickened meat sauce. (Optional. Do not add alcohol of any kind to middle eastern cuisine!)
Add 1 bouquet garni of leek, bay leaf, chervil, celery and thyme.
Add 8 parsley stalks.
Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of mushroom trimmings.
Add 2 chopped shallots.
Add sea salt and 14 black peppercorns.
Simmer and reduce the sauce espagnole, till it becomes a rich thin sauce consistency.
Pour the espagnole sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a container and set it aside.
Place a proportion of 1/2 sauce espagnole and 1/2 thin glace viande into a sauce pot. (About 1 cup of demi glace will be needed)
Heat the sauce pot over medium low heat.
Simmer and reduce, till the the demi glace becomes a thin sauce consistency.
Set the demi glace aside.
Sumac Berry Za'atar Spice Bulgar Pilaf:
This recipe makes 1 large portion!
Heat a sauce pot over medium low heat.
Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of clarified unsalted butter.
Add 3/4 cup of #3 size bulgar.
Saute and stir, till the bulgar wheat becomes toasted to a light tan color.
Add 1/2 tablespoon of minced onion.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of minced ginger.
Add 1/2 tablespoon of minced peeled celery.
Add 1/2 tablespoon of minced green bell pepper.
Add 1 cup of water.
Add 1 cup of light chicken broth.
Bring the liquid to a boil over medium high heat.
Reduce the temperature to low heat.
Add sea salt and black pepper.
Add 1 tablespoon of za'atar spice mix. ( I used a Jordanian za'atar blend.)
Simmer and reduce, till the bulgar wheat becomes tender and till the liquid is slightly less than the amount of bulgar wheat in the pot. The liquid should be just a little bit below the surface of the exposed bulgar wheat. (Add a splash of water if the liquid reduces to the proper level, before the bulgar wheat becomes tender.)
Add 1 pat of unsalted butter.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice.
Add 1 teaspoon of sumac berry spice.
Add 1 pinch of minced cilantro.
Stir the pilaf.
Keep the pilaf warm on a stove top.
Tart Pomegranate Braised Lamb Shoulder Steak:
Braising does not necessarily mean that it has to be done in a sealed pot in an oven. Braising can be done covered or uncovered on a stove top for some applications. The object is to sear the meat to create flavor and color, then simmer the meat in a liquid medium, till the meat becomes tender. Lamb shoulder steaks only require a short amount of braising, because the meat is fairly tender. Braising is also a cooking technique that is used to infuse flavor.
Select an 8 to 10 ounce lamb shoulder blade steak.
Season with sea salt and black pepper.
Heat a saute pan over medium heat.
Add 2 tablespoons of clarified unsalted butter. (ghee)
Saute the lamb steak on both sides, till it starts to brown.
Add 4 or 5 partially crushed hole garlic cloves.
Add 1/4 cup of sliced onion.
Saute till the lamb steak is browned and the onions become lightly caramelized.
Add 1 cup of water.
Deglaze the pan.
Add 2 cups of thin beef broth.
Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
Reduce the temperature to low heat.
Skim off any grease that floats on the liquid.
Add 1 tablespoon of tangy pomegranate molasses.
Add 1 small pinch of cumin.
Add 1/4 teaspoon of ginger paste.
Add 1 small pinch of cardamom.
Add 1 small pinch of mace or nutmeg.
Add 1 pinch of coriander.
Add 1 cup of demi glace.
Simmer and reduce the sauce, till it becomes a rich thin sauce consistency. Occasionally flip the lamb steak in the sauce, so it braises evenly.
Add 1 pat of unsalted butter, while stirring.
Add 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice.
Adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper.
Tart Pomegranate Braised Lamb Shoulder Steak with Sumac Berry Za'atar Spice Bulgar Pilaf and Persian Pickled Lemon:
Use a cup mold to place a portion of the sumac berry za'atar spice bulgar pilaf on the plate.
Lean the lamb steak against the pilaf on the plate.
Spoon a generous amount of the tart pomegranate braising sauce over the lamb steak and onto the plate.
Place 2 thick slices of seeded Persian pickled lemon on the plate next to the pilaf and lamb steak.
Garnish with a cilantro sprig.
Classic traditional Persian and Arabic flavors were used to create this modern style recipe. Classic French techniques are used to make the sauce. The tasteful presentation is done with classic modern fine dining style and there are no excess useless garnishes that do not belong. This entree looks and tastes great!