Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ragu of lamb with chickpeas 子羊とひよこ豆のラグー

Recently, I stumbled into a nice blog by Marc Matsumoto. His recipes span many different food cultures and his food pictures are very nice (he is a professional food photographer and his recipes are occasonally featured on the PBS website). His pictures look professional--not like mine which are done quickly using a point-and-shoot camera (we tend to be hungry before the photo-shoot and cannot afford to devote too much time to it). In any case, you can see some influence from his pictures. I am using a lower angle and taking advantage of the shallow field of focus (see the second picture, Whuuuum, the focus is not really sharp. I blame it to my small point-and-shoot camera.)

In any case, this is based on his recipe but I took a few shortcuts and modifications and I decided to call it a "Ragu".  Please refer to the original recipe for a more authentic "Braised lamb with chickpeas"  but the end result was pretty good and satisfying.
 Lamb: Instead of a whole shoulder of lamb, I used cubed stew lamb meat which is also from the shoulder (1 lb).

Spices: I deviated a bit from Marc's recipe. I used cumin (2 tsp), Garam masala (1 tsp), Kosher salt (1 tsp), black pepper (1 tsp), brown sugar (1 tsp) and curry powder (1/2 tsp). Curry powder is my addition and I did not have "Pomegranate molases" which was called for in the original recipe.

I placed the spices in a Ziploc bag and put in the meat. I shook the pieces well to coat. I placed it in a refrigerator removing as much air as possible from the Ziploc bag. I planed to cook  this soon after I started marinating it but it ended up sitting in the fridge in the meat compartment for 4 days (probably several hours or overnight would suffice).  I was expecting some juice to develop after 4 days but no excess liquid came out. In the original recipe, this was cooked in a 250F oven for a long time but I chose to just cook it on the stove.

Vegetables: Onion (1 large, finely chopped), garlic (4 fat cloves, finely chopped) and Garbanzo beans (8oz can). The original recipe calls for dried Garbanzo beans but I took a shortcut here and used pre-cooked canned Garbanzo beans. 

In a deep pot, I first added olive oil (2 tbs) and when the oil was hot and shimmering, added the cubes of lamb. After few minutes, I tuned the meat to brown the other side.  I could really smell all the spices at this point. After the meat was seared, I removed the pieces to the plate and set aside. The bottom of the pot developed a brown crust (fond). I added the onion and garlic and sautéed. The moisture from the onion and the use of a silicon spatula helped to dislodge the "fond". I sautéed until onion was soft, semitransparent and garlic fragrant (5 minutes or so). I put back the meat and poured chicken broth to cover (about 1 cup). I placed my Ms Piggy silicon "otoshi buta" lid and the regular lid of the pan askew to encourage evaporation. I simmered this for over an hour. I let it come down to room temperature and placed it in the refrigerator.
The next day, my wife tookover before I came home. She removed the otoshi-buta and added the drained garbanzo beans and simmered it for 30-40 minutes. After I came home, I separated the meat and the beans. I placed the meat in a small bowl and, using a large spoon, shredded the meat (it was very tender and easy to shred by just pressing on the pieces with the edge of the spoon). I kept the remaining liquid simmering to reduce (probably less than 1/4 cup at the end). I mixed the shredded lamb and garbanzo beans into the reduced liquid. One of the problems with slow prolonged cooking is that all the tastes become muted and a bit tired. So, it is important to add fresh herbs at the end. I added fresh parsley (5-6 sprigs stems removed and finely chopped) and several grinds of freshly cracked black pepper. Just before serving, I garnished it with fresh mint (4-5 sprigs, stems removed and finely chopped). Instead of flat bread as suggested in the original recipe, we cooked up Pennsylvania Dutch egg noodle as the starch.

This is a very satisfying dish. Although the lamb flavors are muted in long cooking with the spices, the parsley and mint added fresh bright notes. The meat was very tender but not dry and the texture of meat and the Garbanzo beans go very well together. With a glass of good red wine, this cannot go wrong.

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