Still stewin’ around

March 20, 2013

Lamb stew with dried fruit. Good. More trouble than it's worth.

Lamb stew with dried fruit. Good. More trouble than it’s worth.

Because, one ought to cook all the stews one can before winter’s over, yes? Yes.

Besides, I’ve got this lamb thing going on. You see, in my blue-collar, not-trailer-park-but-not-all-that-far-from-it background, I never, never ate lamb. Wasn’t in our world view, just like veal wasn’t in our world view. We ate beef, and pork, and chicken, and game of all varieties, and seafood of whatever nature could be locally caught, plus shrimp when we went out.

It’s not like we were all beans and cornbread, OK?

But lamb. I never saw a live sheep, other than in the annual Living Nativity scene, in which I was, by turns, an angel (don’t laugh), a shepherd, a Wise Man (person), and one significant year, Mary, and they shipped those in from somewhere. Stinky critters they were, too. And when I left home and went to the Big City, well, there may have been a few restaurants in Memphis that served lamb, but I never found ’em.

By the time I was regularly frequenting restaurants where lamb was served, there were enough other things on the menu I liked that I never tried it. Lamb chops, or a steak? Ummmm, let me have that ribeye. Medium rare, please.

I well remember the first time I had lamb. It was at a little restaurant on Overton Park in Memphis, and I cannot for the life of me remember the name of it, but the menu changed monthly and featured a different Mediterranean nation each month. I was there when they were featuring Turkey, and I had shahslik, or something to that effect. It was ground lamb, highly spiced, formed around this sword-shaped skewer, and grilled. And served with this astounding yogurt sauce. I was in love.

Ok. Next time I’m at a restaurant featuring it, I go for the lamb chops. In for a penny, in for a pound, yes? No. I didn’t like the taste, I didn’t like the texture, I didn’t like the nasty mint jelly. I had to explain to the waiter that, no, there was nothing wrong with it, I just didn’t like it. We swung by Molly’s and got tacos before we went home.

Fast forward. No more lamb until I get into this whole cooking adventurously gig. I read food blogs. People wrote rapturously about lamb dishes. I was entranced with braises and stews anyway, and I kept seeing these wonderful recipes for braised lamb shanks. I ordered lamb shanks from my Mountain Pastures guy.

“Huh,” he said. “Don’t get a lot of calls for those.”

I procured said (costly) lamb shanks, invested a significant amount in accoutrements for same, and braised those babies for the better part of a cold Sunday.

Ick. They tasted quite reminiscent of what I used to shovel out of stalls.

Through significant trial and error, I discovered that I was OK with lamb as long as it (a) was in a mostly deconstructed state (ground or cut up in small pieces) and highly, highly spiced. I can do lamb meatballs. I can used ground lamb, and do happily, moussaka or pastitsio, which I think I just spelled incorrectly. Or I can do lamb stew, if the lamb is a vehicle for conveying some other flavor.

This particular one had dried fruit — always a plus — and a North African flair, with cumin and coriander and cardamon and turmeric. It was pretty good stuff. The recipe is here. I didn’t have blanched almonds, so I substituted slivered ones. I only had half as many apricots as I needed, so I added some figs. Otherwise, I went pretty much by the recipe.

It was good. I wouldn’t throw it out. But, seriously? For the price differential, I’d just as soon have beef or pork. Mary, you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em can keep your little lamb. I am not out after him to butcher and cook him. He can go ahead and frolic in the fairy tales.

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