In my world, you can never have enough lamb. Or, to be more specific, lamb shanks. It used to be what I called “fancy food,” for which I splurged only on special occasions, like New Year’s Eve, or a birthday ending in zero. But since the pandemic started, up is down and right is left, and every day that you’re healthy is a day that’s meant to be celebrated. Goodness knows we could all use a little splurging. So, hubby Harvey sold a kidney and bought five pounds of lamb shanks. Lest you think we’re complete chazers, let me add that we had another couple over for dinner. For the first time in two-and-a-half years.
After two years of strict isolation and adherence to Dr. Bonnie Henry’s pandemic protocols, it was a wondrous event, to be sitting less than six feet away from two close friends, masks discarded, acting as though we did this every day. There wasn’t a shred of anxiety anywhere to be seen, and it just felt so normal. To say I felt ridiculously elated and grateful at the same time would not be an exaggeration. It was pure joy. I wondered why we hadn’t done it sooner. And then I remembered … that pesky pandemic. Oh, and my COVID anxiety, which can often be seen from space.
But back to the main event. The lamb. I’d sent Harvey to the butcher to pick up the lamb and, when he returned home, he handed me the bag-o-meat. Which weighed nearly as much as me. I asked him: “So did they throw in a ram for free?” To which he replied: “I told them I wanted the biggest lamb shanks they had.” Long story short, each shank was the size of a small country. Maybe slightly bigger. All of a sudden, my four hours of estimated cooking time was looking more like half a day. Luckily, I’m an early riser.
I hauled out my biggest roaster, proceeded to dirty every fry pan, pot and utensil in the apartment – we’re talking squeezers, mincers, graters, peelers, a multitude of various-sized knives, cutting boards and a healthy shot of Scotch (just kidding about the Scotch, but after it was all said and done, I sure could’ve used a glass) – and had at it.
The recipe, which Harvey found on the internet, is called Tom Valenti’s Lamb Shanks, and it’s spectacular! I won’t bore you with the details – Google it. Never mind that it calls for a bottle of wine, four cups of broth and a whole whack of other stuff. When it was all assembled, I couldn’t even lift the roaster, never mind take it in and out of the oven every 30 minutes for the next five hours. I happily handed over the reins to Harvey to do the heavy lifting. While I sat around and ate bonbons. Not.
All modesty aside, the lamb shanks were a huge hit. But, I was left with cups and cups of gorgeous, rich, winey braising liquid, flavoured with onions, carrots, celery, garlic and thyme, to name just a few of the players. I actually considered drinking it. Is that wrong? Of course, the thyme sprigs might get caught in my teeth.
So, I did what any self-respecting 21st-century cook with a few gallons of leftover braising liquid would do – I Googled it. Which is where I found an article by Mackenzie Stratton in The Spruce Eats, called “What to do with leftover braising liquid.” Imagine that. I learned many things, like the fact that chefs often refer to braising liquid as “liquid gold” because of its ability to transform whatever it touches into something fabulous.
I know some of you will wonder why I bothered keeping the seemingly useless flotsam and jetsam of a meal. It’s because I hate throwing stuff out that I could possibly use. Operative word here is “possibly.” My father, alav ha-shalom, always used to rib me about how thrifty I am. He’s right. I hate to waste food and, if I can repurpose it, why the heck not? When I told Harvey my plans for the braising liquid, he informed me that the army used to call that a “force multiplier.” May the force be with you, too.
If Mackenzie Stratton is to be believed, you can elevate just about any dish with leftover braising “gold.” But first you have to let the “gold” cool overnight in the fridge, then skim off the fat from the top. You’ll be left with a lovely (?) gelatinous bowl of the aforementioned “gold.” Next step requires you to sacrifice your ice cube trays. Fill each one with a big glob of “gold,” freeze them, and then put the nuggets in a Ziploc baggie or in small containers for future use. This is where the “gold” comes in, because at $16 to $18 a bottle for the wine and another $60 for the lamb and the rest of the ingredients, it’s not something you relish throwing down the sink once everyone’s had a good burp.
What all can you do with these little brown, gelatinous gems? You can incorporate them into other recipes, like soups, pasta or grain dishes; use them to poach chicken or tougher cuts of meat; or put them in stews. You can also use them as the supreme weapon of decadence: boil potatoes in the thawed braising liquid, then turn them into the ultimate side of mashed potatoes. I have no words. The drool is dribbling down my chin.
I usually like to include a photo of my culinary creations/discoveries and, well, not to be crass or anything, but Harvey says these “gold” blobs look like something people pick up with those little green baggies on their hand. Need I say more? Now just try and un-see that visual.
Like the thrifty Accidental Balabusta that I am, you might just be on the receiving end of my leftover braising “gold” next time you come for dinner. But you won’t know it. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: ask not what your lamb shanks can do for you – ask what you can do for your lamb shanks.
Once again, you’re welcome. Bon appetit!
Shelley Civkin, aka the Accidental Balabusta, is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review. She’s currently a freelance writer and volunteer.