Wednesday January 08, 2014 | 09:16 AM

This Maine winter has certainly cast the perfect spell to prepare satisfying comfort food, and one of the best of the genre is braised lamb shanks.  

Shanks are fairly easy to find at Whole Foods, Pat’s Meat Market or Rosemont.  Supermarkets like Hannaford tend to have them only as a special order.

The thing to know about lamb shanks is that they’re very fatty and it’s best to prepare the dish a day ahead to allow it to chill overnight.  The fat will rise to the top and congeal and is easily skimmed off the next day.  The resting time also allows the flavors to intensity.  

I had a variety of shanks in my freezer from Whole Foods, Pat’s Market and from Apple Blossom Farm (often available at the Portland Indoor Winter Farmer’s Market).

The method of preparing them is similar to other braises.  You brown the meat first and then set them over a soffrito of carrots, celery and onions.  I used lamb stock as the braising liquid.  But you can also use water or commercially available chicken or beef stock.  But lamb stock adds that special touch.

The lamb shanks browned and out of the braising pot

I like to serve it with glazed carrots and mashed potatoes.  Prepare the carrots by glazing them in just enough stock (preferably veal) just to cover; add a tablespoon of sugar and 3 tablespoons butter to about a pound of carrots.  Cook uncovered until the liquid evaporates enough to form a glaze and the carrots are slightly tender but still firm enough.  Season with salt and pepper.  

Shanks in the reduced braising liquid

For the potatoes boil Yukon gold or russets until tender, mash with a masher and put in plenty of heated heavy cream and butter.  Season with salt and pepper for  perfect mashed potatoes.  

Braised lamb shanks

Servings: 4

4 lamb shanks

3 tablespoons olive oil

Soffrito: finely chopped onion, carrot and 2 stalks celery

2 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tablespoon tomato paste

1 cup lamb stock, or chicken or veal stock

3/4   cup white wine

Juice and grated rind of one lemon

Juice and grated rind of 1 orange

Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large Dutch oven. Brown the shanks on all sides until nicely colored.  Remove from the pot to a plate.  Add the prepared soffrito and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring often.

Add the thyme, bay leaves, garlic, tomato paste, wine and stock. Stir in citrus juice and rind.   Stir to combine. Return the shanks to the pot, spooning some of the liquid over the shanks.  Bring to the simmer, cover and put in the oven. 

Braise for about 2 hours, checking the pot occasionally.  If it’s simmering too lively lower the oven temperature by 10 to 15 degrees and continue to cook.  The meat should be very tender, practically falling off the bone.  

Let the shanks cool in the pot until room temperature.  Refrigerate overnight.  The next day remove the fat from the top.  Before reheating, remove the shanks from the pot and bring the liquid to the boil and reduce until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.  Return the shanks to the pot, lower the heat, cover and cook until the shanks are heated through.  Serve with glazed carrots and mashed potatoes and plenty of the braising gravy.

Lamb shanks with mashed potatoes and glazed carrots

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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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