What I Ate: Lazy End-of-Winter Lamb, Cauliflower, and Polenta

by A.A.

Friday is the Vernal Equinox, which means you only have 1 more day to whip up an Official Winter Meal of braised meat, vegetables yanked from the earth, and maybe a couple dozen bottles of dark red wine. I decided to make rosemary-braised lamb (very loosely adapted from this recipe), roasted cauliflower, and pecorino polenta. And yeah, some dark red wine. My goal with this dinner was to keep things extremely simple and to answer the following:

– Lamb: the best meat?

– Cauliflower: can it ever taste good?

– Polenta: does it taste better when you call it “pecorino polenta,” rather than, say, “cheese grits”?

The Lamb: Ingredients: 1.5-2 lbs. lamb (I used leg, and in retrospect shanks or some tougher cut, on-the-bone, would have worked better), cut into 2-inch chunks / olive oil / S&P / 2 onions / 3 carrots / 10 cloves garlic / 1 bottle red wine / 2-3 c. homemade chicken broth (alright, I have this in my freezer, so use your discretion on whether to use homemade broth, water, or [not recommended] canned stock) / 5 t. chopped fresh rosemary / 2 t. chopped fresh thyme.

[Since this is Lazy Braised Lamb, feel free to do as I did and neither grate, mince, nor chop finely the carrots, onions, and garlic. On the former two, just cut into big chunks; on the garlic, just peel and smash. It’s only flavor for the sauce, not presentation.]

1. S&P the lamb chunks; heat oil in a large heavy pot on med-high heat; sear lamb on all sides; transfer to a plate.

2. Add onions, carrots, garlic to pot and sauté until brownish (~8-10 minutes). Add wine, broth, rosemary, and thyme. Add lamb back to pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the meat is tender or someone in your household starts complaining that they’re hungry (~2 hours).

3. Remove cover from pot, simmer 10 more minutes. Transfer lamb to a platter using a slotted spoon. Strain the rest of what’s in the pot to get all the vegetable chunks out. Boil the remaining liquid down until thick(er), around 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, or, if you’re lucky, a gravy boat.

The Cauliflower: This is pretty self explanatory. Buy a head of cauliflower, wash and cut it into florets, dry thoroughly. Spread it out in a roasting pan and drizzle/toss with olive oil and S&P. Roast in a 350-oven for 30-45 minutes. Done.

The Polenta: This depends on how much polenta you want to make (and remember, polenta doesn’t reheat that well, in my opinion, so its Leftovers Utility Factor is pretty low). But: make your polenta as usual (ratio of 1 c. polenta to 1.5 c. water/milk). Stir in half a cup (or more) delicious pecorino, and season. Serve immediately. This is a dramatic improvement over the Cheez Whiz that my mother used to sneak into grits (and, for that matter, onto cauliflower) when I was a child.

The Wine: For braising, I used a $6 bottle of Australian Shiraz. For the meal itself, I decided to try a Francis Coppola Syrah, available at Trader Joe’s for $13. The Côtes du Rhône selection at TJ’s is, needless to say, somewhat limited. But you really can’t screw up by matching lamb with most any Syrah/Shiraz or Cabernet.  The Francis Coppola is a huge wine, dense and rich.  Not worth drinking on its own, but with the lamb and the gravy (demi-glace, if you prefer), it was terrific.

The Answers (see above for the questions):

Yes. Although, mine was somewhat overcooked, which I thought was impossible with braising. My guess is that I used the wrong cut of meat (leg). Suggestions on what might work better?

Yes. This cauliflower was addictive.

Sadly, kind of, yeah.

8 responses to “What I Ate: Lazy End-of-Winter Lamb, Cauliflower, and Polenta

  1. Yeah, on the braise I’d have gone with shanks, or maybe shoulder. Leg is too tender and delicate. Everything else sounds great, though I have to suggest experimenting with Italian and Spanish reds for the sheer f**k of it. They can be had for relatively cheap, and they can be a lot more interesting than the Coppola.

    As for leftover polenta? Hah!! Cut it up when it’s cold and fry it in butter or bacon fat. Effing rocks for breakfast, or as a side with any meal. You will thank me.

  2. “As for leftover polenta? Hah!! Cut it up when it’s cold and fry it in butter or bacon fat. Effing rocks for breakfast, or as a side with any meal. You will thank me.”

    Hear, hear! Or, fry it up and put some tomato sauce with a little grated cheese on it and pair it with a salad. Voila.

  3. Roasting cauliflower is the a great way to treat it. I like to do it slightly differently. I cut across the cauliflower, making as many big flat pieces as i can. Then roast it the same way. The darker and crispier the better.
    This used to be a huge thread back in the day on egullet. http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=31042 Folks used to say that the cauliflower tasted like french fries.

  4. Yes, lamb is indeed the best meet. (at least for “I’m going to eat a chunk of cooked meat” applications. Delicious cured pork products and sweetbreads can be better in their own ways, but that’s hard to compare.)

    But the killer ap for leg is grilling or roasting, rather than braising.

  5. I think I also would have seared the lamb before I tossed it in for the braise.

    I had my big, last winter meal last night too: steak and mashed potatoes with balsamic reduction and carmelized shallots with some blanched asparagus. Had with a Washington State blend of Syrah, Merlot and Cab Sav. Perfect comfort food.

  6. I hate lamb shanks…the shoulder is the best cut! I’m such a fan of lamb stew…I’ve been kind of into that Irish style lately with no wine, but this does look fabulous.

  7. I adore roasted cauliflower, especially when done with garlic cloves (or in garlic-flavored oil).

  8. Lamb the best meat!? Look, lamb’s great, but clearly duck is the best meat (of those that I’ve tried and which are widely available). You people are crazy.

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